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Norwich Bulletin - 8/6/2006

Some Truths About FIP

Kittens and cats are being misdiagnosed with feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) much too frequently. Because there is no one test that will actually diagnose FIP, it is a challenge, and all too often cats are euthanized because of a positive titer (which is not the same thing as a test).

I have had several kittens in the past ten years that have been adopted out and came down with a corona virus. The vets were quick to diagnose FIP and recommend that the owners euthanize the kitten. A subsequent necropsy has shown that there was no indication of FIP in all but one case.

Unfortunately, there is no absolute test until the kitten or cat is euthanized, so I would caution everyone to be very careful before they said yes to euthanization due to a diagnosis of FIP. I was very lucky, in that my vets were not quick to decide our little white kitten was infected with FIP, even though they felt many of the symptoms were present. If they had been, we (and much of Connecticut) would never have known Milo, our Helping Paws spokescat, who has just celebrated his tenth birthday.

FIP is caused by one of the corona viruses. Many cats develop the corona virus, but only a few actually develop FIP. Any tests that are available to test for FIP cannot tell the difference between FIP and the other, non lethal corona viruses that do not produce the disease.

That is why misdiagnosis is common, and of course, most people listen to their vets and will not believe the rescue organization or breeder (if it is a purebred cat) when cautioned to wait. In fact, anywhere from 50 to 90 per cent of the cats in the United States would test positive for exposure to the corona virus! This poses no risk for most kittens because the virus typically has no symptoms, except for occasionally showing a type of URI.

However, in about 2 per cent of the 50 to 90 per cent, the corona virus mutates into a fatal, immune mediated disease that ravages the bodies of kittens and young cats. The cat’s immune system cannot fight the virus and will result in organ damage, and ultimately, death.

What causes FIP? There is no one specific reason, but rather a combination of circumstances. Genetics and stress and the immune system are all part of that combination. And the most important thing to remember is that, although the corona viruses are contagious, FIP is not. So the cat who is infected with FIP in a multi-cat household, cannot pass it on to another cat.

While FIP is fatal and there is no known cure, you can treat FIP cats with a drug that is comparable to human interferon. There are cases in which cats have gone into remission. However, the bad news is that it is not an approved, legal drug in the United States and may be a bit difficult to import.

Who is usually infected with FIP? Kittens and cats under two years of age are the most common victims of FIP, and the next group are the seniors. FIP rarely occurs with adult, middle aged felines.

There are many titers for FIP. As I said before there is no surefire test and some of the titers will give false positives while others could give false negatives. And then there is the usual titer that just shows a cat has been exposed to a corona virus.

All too often vets will jump to the conclusion a kitten has FIP and suggest euthanizing. FIP generally does not kill quickly. There are two types of FIP, dry and wet – the wet FIP being easier to diagnose because of the fluid that builds up in the belly. With dry FIP, kittens do not appear to be any different than the healthy ones – until they start fading away.

Often called the "purring disease" because cats often continue to purr even when they are close to death, this is a terrible, ravaging disease that brings sadness and loss to the families that watch the cats that they love, die a little bit each day.

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