Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard
Snow Leopard cub (7 mos old) - Cape May County Zoo

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


FIP stands for Feline Infectious Peritonitis. Invariably, it is nearly 100% fatal. Personally, I have not seen a cat survive this dreaded disease.

The disease is caused by a virus, in the very common coronavirus family, that generally cause gastrointestinal signs.
Coronaviruses affect people, cats and dogs as well as other animals.   It is transmitted via fluids and excretions BUT it is very easy to kill in the environment with standard disinfectants. 

In most cases these signs are mild and the animal clears the infection. In SOME cats - and we still don't know why or how - this coronavirus mutates within the cat to this deadly form. 

There are two main types of FIP:

1. Wet ("effusive") - where fluid builds up in the chest and/or abdominal cavities - this happens because the virus causes blood vessels to become leaky

Cats often come in with a swollen belly - almost looking "pregnant" or suddenly fat - and usually a very unkempt haircoat. These cats are often thin along the back with the spine very prominent.

2. Dry - certain organs (kidneys, liver, central nervous system) - develop lesions that are like little mini abscesses (pyogranulomas) 

FIP affects mainly very young cats but there is a sub group of older (>10 yrs) cats that develop this as well. The wet form is easy to diagnose based on a physical and often getting a fluid sample. We can tell by looking at certain characteristics of the fluid that it is FIP.
The fluid we obtain is generally viscous and pale yellow to straw colored.

 A definitive test would involve sending fluid or tissue samples out to special labs. These tests could take weeks and frankly, would not change the outcome. 

The dry form is very difficult to diagnose and may only be found at a necropsy (if the owner allows it). Signs in these cats can be related to the organs involved - so possible kidney failure, neurologic signs, etc.  

A "coronavirus" titer (a simple blood test) is essentially useless as most cats, unless kept in an isolated type of cattery, have been exposed to these viruses. A titer does not equal disease or the propensity to develop the virulent form - FIP.

In general, treatment for these cats is purely supportive and making sure they are comfortable. This usually involves a course of corticosteroids and possibly draining some of the fluid (if applicable). However, some of these cases come in too far gone and need to be euthanized. Sadly, this can happen rapidly, leaving the cat owners very confused and distraught. 

There is no good vaccine for this since the process that produces these deadly results occurs within the cat's cells. At this time research is on going into why this happens and what we can to do to prevent and/or predict who this will happen to, as well to treatments/cures. 

A blog called The Conscious Cat discusses recent research updates from the leaders in the field. As she says in her blog:

The bottom line? There is much research that still needs to be done. Research requires money, and cat health studies are notoriously underfunded. In his opening remarks, Steve Dale’s statement that ”if FIP happened in the dog world, there would already be a cure” was met with loud applause from the audience.

As I always say, cats are the true "under dogs" in the pet world. They often get the short end of the health care straw - from their owners to the drug companies. 

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