Few diseases are as frightening to cat owners as feline infectious peritonitis. Infected cats rarely show signs of illness at first, but obvious symptoms will emerge as the illness disrupts the respiratory and digestive systems. It is a highly infectious virus frequently found in cat breeding facilities and animal shelters. The illness has a staggering 100 percent mortality rate. Veterinarians currently do not have any effective means to stop or prevent the virus from spreading.
Signs of FIP
Most cats show no visible signs immediately after infection, so the virus can remain dormant for months or even years before springing to life. Some felines develop discharge from the eyes or nose after contracting the virus. Sneezing and minor digestive problems, such as diarrhea, also are possible. While many cats are exposed to the virus responsible for FIP, only a fraction of these animals develop a chronic infection, according to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.
The FIP virus may target the respiratory or digestive system, so your pet's symptoms depend largely on the focus of his particular infection. Effusive or "wet" infections are defined by severe inflammation of the lining around the stomach, intestines and other internal organs. This leads to the accumulation of fluid in the abdomen, which can deform your kitty's belly. Effusive FIP is the most common form of the disease and tends to progress faster than noneffusive infections.
Also known as "dry" FIP, noneffusive infections are more widespread throughout your cat's body and are not associated with extreme fluid buildup around the stomach. Instead, masses form in the kidneys, liver, eyes, lungs, heart and other vital organs. Your cat's eyes may become cloudy or even change color as a result.
Various neurological symptoms also may accompany an infection, including:
- Seizures and spasms.
- Behavioral changes.
- Loss of vision.
- Uncontrolled urination.
As the infection progresses, your cat may begin to show signs of both effusive and noneffusive FIP. General weight loss, lethargy and incontinence are possible for cats with either wet or dry infections. FIP gradually erodes your cat's immune system, which leaves him open to secondary illnesses that may produce additional symptoms. The final stages of FIP can see a complete shutdown of your cat's bodily functions.
A Difficult Diagnosis
Diagnosing FIP is a challenge even for well-trained veterinarians, so don't try to figure out your cat's health issues on your own. Take him to a professional for a physical evaluation and blood tests to rule out other possible infections. There is no way to test for FIP directly, so vets rely on a combination of antibody blood tests, X-rays and fluid analysis to perform a diagnosis.
The only way to definitively identify an active infection of FIP is to take a sample from a lymph node in the abdomen, according to Long Beach Animal Hospital.
If your cat has FIP, then there is little you can do besides make him comfortable and manage his symptoms with your vet's help. Treatments of cortisone can help manage inflammation and encourage your cat to eat. Provide your pet with a safe and stress-free environment, and make sure he has good quality food and access to water throughout the day.
The feline infectious peritonitis virus eventually decays when left in the environment for several months and is vulnerable to disinfectant solutions. You can reduce the risk of spreading FIP by sanitizing all contaminated surfaces and fabric.
Quentin Coleman has written for various publications, including All Pet News and Safe to Work Australia. He spent more tan 10 years nursing kittens, treating sick animals and domesticating semi-feral cats for a local animal shelter. He graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor's degree in journalism.