FIP, Fatal with no cure
FIP – Feline infectious peritonitis. It’s fatal with no cure, only palliative treatments. It’s hard to diagnose, and there are no vaccines yet available to prevent cats from contracting it. However, research is progressing, and we must be hopeful for future prevention, treatment and a cure.
I write this second post because it would be incomplete to talk about the loss of Tubby to FIP, something I’d never heard of before, without talking about the disease itself. As a writer, I’ll try to interpret my understanding of the disease, it’s symptoms, and it’s connection with the very common coronavirus. While I’m aware that there’s been some interesting research on the subject, in this post I only seek to share the basic information of the disease. As breakthroughs occur, I will seek to share them on Paws for Reflection.
As stated in my previous post, “While my experience with Tubby had led 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.”
It is more common in multi-cat environments, places where the coronavirus, transmitted through cats saliva and feces, are present. It is believed that the coronavirus, called feline enteric coronavirus, may mutate. Another theory is that an aberration of the immune response to the virus causes FIP.
According to Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine’s website, cats that are infected with a feline coronavirus generally do not show any symptoms during the viral infection, and an immune response occurs with the development of antiviral antibodies.
Their website also states:
- In five to ten percent of the infected cats, either by a mutation of the virus or by an aberration of the immune response, the infection progresses into clinical FIP. The virus is then referred to as feline infectious peritonitis virus (FIPV).
- With the assistance of the antibodies that are supposed to protect the cat, white blood cells are infected with virus, and these cells then transport the virus throughout the cat’s body.
- This results in an intense inflammatory reaction around vessels in the tissues where these infected cells locate, often in the abdomen, kidney, or brain.
- It is this interaction between the body’s own immune system and the virus that is responsible for the disease.
- Once a cat develops clinical FIP involving one or many systems of the cat’s body, the disease is progressive and is almost always fatal.
- Clinical FIP develops as an immune-mediated disease is unique, unlike any other viral disease of animals or humans.
- FIP can occur weeks, months, or even years after initial exposure.
Symptoms of the coronavirus include:
- Some cats may show mild upper respiratory symptoms such as sneezing, watery eyes, and nasal discharge. My Tubby would sneeze and then shake all over. I was always concerned that he might be having a mini seizure of some sort, but he always appeared fine.
- Other cats may experience a mild intestinal disease and show symptoms such as diarrhea.
Symptoms can appear to be sudden because cats have an amazing ability to mask disease until they are in a crisis state. Once symptoms develop, the severity increases over the course of several weeks.
Initially Tubby responded to the steroids treatment, eating and drinking a bit better. He could crawl up onto the couch. He would snuggle with me every night. But in a matter of weeks, that reversed, and I made the painful decision to put him out of his misery. I remember well, it was President’s Day Weekend, when I cried every time I looked at him. I made the appointment Tuesday. He went in Wednesday, and his ashes and photo are in a glassed-in cabinet in the living room.
Other FIP info shared by Cornell’s website and other online sources include:
A cat with dry FIP will show ocular (eye) or neurological signs. The cat may develop difficulty in standing up or walking, becoming functionally paralyzed over time. Loss of vision is another possible outcome of the disease. Symptoms of the dry form generally include chronic weight loss, depression, anemia, and a persistent fever that does not respond to antibiotic therapy.
The effusive, wet, form of FIP is characterized by an accumulation of fluid in the abdomen, or less commonly in the chest. Early in the disease, the cat may exhibit similar symptoms to the dry form, including weight loss, fever, loss of appetite, and lethargy. The wet form of the disease often progresses rapidly, and the cat may quickly appear pot-bellied due to fluid accumulation in the abdomen. When the fluid accumulation becomes excessive, it may become difficult for the cat to breathe normally.
The specialists encouraged me to undergo more tests, but I had to question, why? There was no hope for survival. Unless more testing would help find a cure for this awful disease, why put him and me through hours of travel, and unnecessary pain and heartbreak. I could only think of my friend’s futile fight with cancer, and how much better it would have been for both of us, to accept the less than five percent survival rate as fact. I could not see mirroring this scenario with Tubby.
As I write this article some two years later, I would believe that Tubby had the dry form of FIP because of his difficulty walking, but then again, his organs were starting to shut down, so I guess I still don’t know. However, because I lost one of my best feline friends to this horrendous disease, I wanted to share my experiences and a little information about the disease. While there still is no cure, research is showing promise with glimmers of hope that there will be a cure or prevention for FIP.
Upon leaving Portland Veterinary Specialists with a terminal diagnosis, I put Tubby’s cat carrier in the front seat, and we drove five hours in a blinding snowstorm which progressively got worse (at times going 15 mph to keep from going out of the road) to get home. We both knew that no hotel or individual would accept someone with a very sick cat. Even today, I’d question whether cat friendly hotels would accept a sick cat.
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.