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The little known fatal cat disease FIP strikes home

While there are many dreaded words in the cat world, there’s none more devastating than having your cat diagnosed with FIP – Feline infectious peritonitis.

I learned first hand about FIP about two years ago, when my two-year-old Tubby, a black Siamese blend, went missing in the house. It was Martin Luther King’s long weekend, and when I tallied up my brood on Saturday, Tubby seemed to be missing. Had he snuck out into a cold, snow-covered outside. I started searching. There was a black cat that I thought looked an awful lot like him outside hanging around underneath the house. I tried to catch him, but he was scared, and ran…I was beside myself.

On Monday, I caught a glimpse of him out of the corner of my eye. He was weak, frail, and off-balance. He could hardly walk. He let me approach him. I picked him up and took him downstairs, putting out some special wet food to see if he would eat. He just looked at it, and then looked up at me. I made a bed for him on the couch, lifting him onto it. He was too weak to jump up the foot or two.

I thought, maybe he ate a bad mouse? I didn’t put out rodent control poisons for that very reason. But perhaps one had come in from the outside. Maybe he’d contacted a diseased rodent? It was a holiday, so I decided to wait. If it was a bad mouse, with some food, water and time, he’d most likely get better.

While all my cats are special, Tubby had a special place, probably because I didn’t want to adopt him. You see, he was free for the taking at the animal shelter, coming with his  Siamese-point brother, who was just irresistibly handsome, and had to become part of my feline family. Tubby was a bit smaller, shyer, and while he had the Siamese shape to his eyes, there was nothing else that resembled being Siamese. He and his brother were like Velcro. They’d never been separated. A college girl had left both cats in an apartment with a bag of food and the toilet lid up.

Needless to say, they both jointed a family of three other cats. These two brothers would romp and play all through the house. They were both Velcro, and they found a very special place in my heart. While I’ve always liked cats, and had cat companions since I was 26, these two felines changed me from ‘having a cat’ to being a real cat person. They are now an integral part of my life, as friends, entertainers, and my best buddies.

Let’s get back to Tubby. I hoped to see an improvement. I tried feeding him with a spoon and bottle dropper. He’d take a little water and a tad of juice from the wet food. It was time to get him to the veterinarian.

It was the first time I’d heard the word, FIP. They couldn’t really explain the disease, so they ran off some information about the disease from Cornell University”s College of Veterinary Medicine’s website.

The vet was a fill-in for the regular vet. He suggested steroids, sending me and Tubby home, and calling back if there weren’t any improvements. His gallbladder and liver seemed to be malfunctioning. The vet techs took a very different tack. They recommended going to Portland, Maine to the Portland Veterinary Specialists. They made the appointment, gave me the blood tests results, and off I went, despite threats of two-feet of snow that afternoon.

I felt like I’d been hit by a baseball bat. My poor Tubby…could they help him.

Luckily it didn’t start snowing till I arrived at the specialist office, some two plus hours later. The paperwork, then the check-up, blood tests, x-rays………

FIP is complicated and hard to explain.  I don’t profess to be an expert in veterinary care, but only a writer trying to explain a very complex, untreatable disease.

While my experience with Tubby had lead me to believe that it’s a disease of only young cats, I have found out that’s wrong. While most cats that develop FIP are under two years of age, cats of any age can get FIP. Cats with weak immune systems are most likely to get FIP, including kittens, cats already infected with feline leukemia virus (FeLV), and geriatric cats. The fact that he was about two-years old, led the specialists to suspect FIP.

FIP is not highly contagious. However, it is believed that FIP is a viral disease caused by certain strains of coronavirus. Most strains of the coronavirus, transmitted through cats saliva and feces do not cause FIP, and are referred to feline enteric coronavirus. It is believed that a possible mutation or aberrations of the immune response to the more common coronavirus are the cause of FIP.

In the next posting, I will share some information about FIP.

If you’ve had a cat with FIP, or know a friend that has experienced the heartache of losing a cat to this, or another, fatal feline disease, please share.

4 responses to “The little known fatal cat disease FIP strikes home”

  1. Sally Bahner Avatar
    Sally Bahner

    FIP is as nasty as it gets. We lost Kira, our exquisite Russian Blue girl, to FIP when she was almost 2. I thought I would never stop crying, but I made it a point to learn all I could (i.e., many cats carry the coronavirus and it takes some kind of a stresser to trigger it) and of course, wrote about it. Some inroads are being made on find a cure, but it’s a toughie.

  2. Debra Eve Avatar
    Debra Eve

    BJ, thank you for this article. I have two Maine Coon/tabby boys I adore, and had never heard of this. Now I know what to look for. So sorry about Tubby.

  3. Louise Behiel Avatar
    Louise Behiel

    I’m sorry for your loss. Obviously he was special to you. how did his brother do without him?

    1. BJ Avatar

      About nine months later, I took in an eight week old kitten (my header on my blog) and my Linus just adopted him as his own brother. Three years later, they still wrestle, just like he and Tubby did. He definitely missed his brother, and adopted Little Yellow as his replacement. It’s a real hoot when they both try to share my lap when I’m trying to have my morning coffee.

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