a primer on feline coronavirus and FIP – part 2

Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Sep 12 2013

Yesterday, we talked about feline coronavirus and the virus it can mutate into called FIP. Today, I’ll explain the two types of FIP that infect our pets, and what to do if your cat tests positive for the disease.

In cats with FIP, the feline coronavirus triggers the disease, but from there, the cat’s immune system seems to do the rest. Antibody/antigen immune complexes form and result in vessel damage and vasculitis. Damaged vessels become leaky and lead to accumulations of fluid in the chest or abdomen. This variation of the disease is known as the “wet” form of FIP, and occurs about four to six weeks after a stressful event. The wet form of FIP has a rapid progression, and is easier to diagnose, as the tell-tale straw colored fluid that accumulates in the chest or abdomen can be a big tip off.

There is also a “dry” form of FIP, which has a more gradual onset and can have an incubation period of months to years. Cats who have the dry form of FIP develop inflammatory granulomas in the internal organs that can result in organ failure. Vague symptoms like fever and weight loss occur. The dry form of FIP is more difficult to diagnose and may need biopsies for definitive diagnosis.

Sadly, there is no treatment for FIP, and it is eventually fatal. Some supportive and experimental therapies may help, and will be covered by your Petplan pet insurance, but there is no cure. While a vaccine is available, its effectiveness and use remain controversial.

Finally, you may wonder what to do if you have an FIP positive cat in your multi-cat household. Because the disease that causes FIP is so prevalent, it is highly probable that the other cats in your house already have the feline coronavirus. Therefore there is nothing you can do – you don’t need to rehome your FIP positive cat because FIP itself is not contagious, and the virus that causes it probably already affects your cats. While you have no control over whether the virus mutates into FIP, keep in mind that it’s unlikely to do so.

When your FIP positive kitty’s quality of life starts to decline, you can talk to your veterinarian about end of life issues and questions. Determining the right time to choose humane euthanasia for your pet is a highly personal decision, but your veterinarian is always there for advice, help, and above all, comforting during the decision making process. Don’t hesitate to reply on us for support.