FIP: Feline Infectious Peritonitis

The moment I first saw Sammy, a new orange tabby in our animal shelter, I did not like the look of his stomach. If he was a female cat, I would have had no doubt he was pregnant: rather small and skinny himself, Sammy had round, bulging sides. It did not seem to bother him; Sammy was curious about his new surroundings, people, and other cats, and did not appear to have any pain. Still, I was worried. Another volunteer shared my concern. A visit to the vet was scheduled for Sammy.

The next time I came to the shelter, Sammy wasn’t there. I hoped he was still at the vet’s, but I had a bad feelingâÂ?¦ It turned out I was right: Sammy had to be put to sleep. He had FIP, I was told, and nothing could be done about that.

I did not know much about FIP, except that it stood for Feline Infectious Peritonitis, so I went online to look it up. I couldn’t believe it that the condition cannot be treated. Unfortunately, it is true.

FIP is caused by a coronavirus to which most cats are exposed in some way during their lifetime, especially strays. A relatively benign form of the virus can be present in the cat’s system without harming it for a long time; then it can mutate into a disease-causing form. Any cat can get this infection, but kittens and very old cats appear to be at a higher risk.

The disease can develop in two forms, dry and effusive. The effusive one makes the fluids accumulate in the cat’s abdomen and chest (this is what Sammy had). The dry form does not cause much fluid build up; the symptoms depend on which organs are affected. About half of all cases are followed by eye inflammation, unsteadiness, seizures, or paralysis. Usually, there will be weight loss and fever. Kidney and liver failure can be caused as well. There is a vaccine available, but it will not help an already infected cat or a cat that has been previously exposed to the virus.

Since there is no cure, prevention is the best protection. Keep your cats indoors, and keep their belongings clean. Daily change the cats food & water and scoop the litterbox. Have the litterbox and food & water bowls disinfected each week. If you have more than one cat, it is best to make sure each one has their own bowl, and no more than two cats are using the same litterbox. If you’ve had an infected cat, thoroughly wash everything. Common household disinfectants and soaps will kill the virus.

Sammy’s death saddened me, even though I did not get to know him very well. My consolation is that at least he did not have to suffer and die in the street, and he knew a few days of comfort and love at the animal shelter. Good bye, Sammy.

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