If the cat suddenly becomes apathetic and feverish, eats little, and the tummy swells anyway, you should pay attention. It is possible that one of the most feared cat diseases has broken out in the house tiger: FIP, a contagious form of peritonitis that is triggered by a virus mutation. FIP can affect any cat and, once it has broken out, has no chance of recovery. Preventive vaccination is possible, but its benefit is disputed among experts.
What is FIP in cats?
The abbreviation FIP stands for “feline infectious peritonitis”; an infectious disease that manifests itself clinically in the inflammation of the peritoneum, but occasionally also attacks the pleura. This does not mean the cat’s coat of hair, but the lining of the body cavities, i.e. the shell in which the internal organs in the abdomen and chest lie. This protective skin is very sensitive and contains blood and lymph cells as well as nerves. The trigger for the globally widespread disease FIP is an aggressive mutation of the feline coronavirus, which can trigger gastrointestinal diseases, which are usually mild.
FIP does not only affect domestic cats: it has also been found in big cats such as lions and leopards. The feline coronavirus is primarily acquired through contact with the feces, saliva, or nasal secretion of infected conspecifics. Direct transmission from cat to cat is also possible via saliva from the mouth to mouth or from mouth to nose. Contaminated objects pose an additional risk: outside of a host body, the virus can survive for up to seven days. Even humans can become intermediate carriers and transmit the virus to the cat. However, there is no risk of infection from animal to human.
The risk of infection increases when many cats live together. Animal shelters and animal boarding houses, in which many cats are together in a relatively small space, can promote the spread of the virus. However, infection is not yet synonymous with an acute illness: the danger lies in the mutation of the coronavirus in the cat’s body to the actual FIP virus. In some cases, the disease does not break out at all.
What FIP symptoms does the sick cat show?
If the cat has ingested viruses, the incubation period is around four months, but the animal excretes the pathogen itself just a few days after infection. It becomes dangerous when the virus originally ingested in the cat’s intestine mutates and the feline coronavirus becomes the FIP virus. This attaches itself to the scavenger cells of the host animal’s own defense system, uses them for reproduction, and damages them in such a way that they disintegrate. In addition, messenger substances have been released that attack the cell walls and thus trigger the actual peritonitis. A distinction is made between a “wet” and a “dry” form. Accordingly, various symptoms appear.
Both forms are preceded by a mild runny nose, discharge of nasal and lacrimal secretions, loss of appetite, emaciation, and persistent fever. Chronic fever in particular can be the first warning sign of a disease outbreak in a young cat. If you notice the symptoms in your house tiger and you are unsure whether it is FIP, our experienced veterinarians at Dr. Fressnapf online quickly and stress-free. Describe your specific case to our vet team and save your cat the arduous visit to the local vet. You can find out in a personal video chat with the veterinarian whether a visit to the practice is really necessary to make a diagnosis or which further treatment at home is beneficial for the health of your animal.
In the “wet” form of FIP, fluid builds up in the abdomen or, more rarely, in the chest cavity, which is reflected in the cat’s body swelling outwards. Due to the compression of the organs by the liquid, shortness of breath can occur, among other things. A puncture of the liquid provides the veterinarian with clear indications of the disease with FIP.
In the “dry” form, the accumulation of moisture plays a lesser role, instead of tissue knots forming at the foci of inflammation, which can primarily occur in the abdomen and pleura and internal organs, but also in the brain or eyes. Jaundice, various eye diseases, anemia, or neurological deficits such as cramps, confusion, and paralysis can also occur.
For a reliable diagnosis of the disease, the veterinarian has different test methods available, with which antibodies or antigens can be localized in blood or other body fluids.