Feline Diseases Feline Infectious Peritonitis(FIP) If you've browsed our website or visited our Facebook page, you may have stumbled across the story of our babygirl Beatrix that passed away from a deadly, rare, incurable disease called Feline Infectious Peritonitis. Beatrix came to us from Russia and arrived purring, happy as could be but very small for her age. The vet and myself didn't think anything of it until a few weeks went by and I noticed she didn't want to eat and wasn't gaining weight. Not only that, but she would briefly play and have to lay down and rest. I wondered if it was the stress from flying here, but after a few days went by she started struggling to breathe. The vet thought that it was bronchitis and that with antibiotics and an appetite stimulant she would get better. However, 2 days into the antibiotic she got worse. Our vet did a chest x-ray and determined that the area around Beatrix's lungs was full of fluid. The fluid was sent off to a lab, and my vet explained the symptoms pointed to FIP. I had raised cats my entire life and never heard of FIP before, and it didn't take long for me to Google the symptoms and disease, and my heart sank. We waited 3 long, agonizing days for results. The vet called and confirmed that my baby had FIP. It was only a matter of time before her lungs would fill up with fluid again, and I promised her that I would not make her suffer. We enjoyed, loved, and spoiled Beatrix for 3 weeks after the diagnosis and she was peacefully put to sleep in my arms, swaddled in a blanket we made her.
What is FIP? As stated by Cat Friendly Homes, Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) is a fatal viral disease caused by a strain of virus called feline coronavirus (FCoV). Shockingly up to 50% of cats in a single cat household and up to 80-90% in multi-catenvironments become infected with one or more strains of feline coronavirus at some time in their lives. The majority of catswith feline enteric coronavirus (about 90% or more) remain healthy without any harmful side effects. However when the feline coronavirus mutates into a strain of the virus that has the ability to cause disease it is referred to as the FIP virus. It is fortunate that the mutation only occurs rarely, but when the mutation does occur it is usually fatal.
What Causes FIP? Any cat that carries any coronavirus is potentially at risk for developing FIP. However, cats with weak immune systems are most likely to develop the disease, including kittens, cats already infected with feline leukemia virus (FeLV), and geriatric cats. Most cats that develop FIP are under two years of age, but cats of any age may develop the disease. Most cats that are infected with FIP have recently been vaccinated, hasve had surgery, or has gone under significant stress. It is believed that stress contributes to the likelihood of contracting FIP.
Symptoms of FIP When Beatrix refused to eat her food, especially her favorite pieces of shredded chicken, I knew something was not right. She had her vaccinations 2 days before the onset of symptoms, and other people have also said the same about their cat's falling victim to FIP. Most of them have been recently vaccinated, which makes me wonder if there is a correlation between vaccinations and FIP. Don't get me wrong I am not an anti-vaxxer, but there is seemingly very little information about this deadly disease. In cats that develop FIP disease, the first signs of illness may be very vague and not highly noticeable. However as the disease progresses the symptoms are hard to miss and include: listlessness, lethargy, decreased or absent appetite, weight loss, and a fluctuating fever. After a period of several days to a few weeks other symptoms typically begin to occur. At this stage, most cats will develop the wet or effusive form of FIP (which is what our Beatrix had). With wet FIP, accumulation of fluid in body cavities usually occurs. Fluid may accumulate in the abdomen, leading to a swollen abdomen, or in the chest cavity, resulting in difficulty with breathing. With our Beatrix, she had fluid build up in her chest and we could visibly see her struggling to breathe. Some cats may develop dry or non-effusive FIP with little to no accumulating fluid. The dry form of FIP often involves severe inflammation in one or more organs including the eyes, brain, liver, intestine, or other organs of the body, leading to a variety of clinical signs. Many cats with non-effusive FIP will have ocular (eye) symptoms as their only clinical sign. Once the disease develops, most cats will deteriorate rapidly, although some cats remain normal for several weeks. Unfortunately, the disease will eventually result in death in almost every case. Most cats exposed to feline coronavirus, even to the potentially FIP-inducing strains, are able to develop an immune response that protects them, therefore only a small proportion of infected cats actually develop clinical disease. However, as stated above, those that do develop the disease almost always die.
How is FIP Diagnosed? Sometimes FIP symptoms are vague and mimic symptoms of other diseases which makes it tricky to diagnose. There may be abnormalities in a routine blood analysis, but none are particularly specific for FIP. With Beatrix, a chest X-ray determined the presence of fluid in the abdomen or chest. If fluid is present, some of it can be removed by tapping the chest or the abdomen and sending the fluid to a laboratory for testing. Even with fluid analysis, it does not always provide a definitive diagnosis of the disease. Sometimes FIP is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning that a variety of similar conditions have been ruled out. The diagnosis may be further complicated because FIP may exist at the same time as some other conditions such as feline leukemia virus diseases.
Are My Other Cats At Risk? If your cat has FIP, other cats in your household may be at a greater risk for becoming infected with feline coronavirus. Fortunately, infection will lead to this fatal disease in only a minority of cats. As a precaution, many veterinarians recommend that you wait about a month after an infected cat dies before introducing a new cat into the house, to minimize the chance of exposure to the virus. In a multi-cat household in which an infected cat has died, it is recommended to wait at least three months to see if any other cats develop clinical disease. However, these previously exposed cats could be carriers of the disease and could potentially infect any new cats.
Preventing FIP Unfortunately there is no 100% effective method to prevent FIP. Because it is thought that stressed cats with the coronavirus are more likely to become infected with FIP, some vets will recommend delaying vaccinations and waiting to spay/neuter your cat. Your vet may recommend giving your cat vitamins or a different diet to build up your cat's immune system before vaccinating them. Because the coronavirus is spread through cat feces, it is highly recommended to keep your cats litter box cleaned, sanitized and poop free. VCA Hospital states that cleaning with dilute bleach (1:32) is adequate to kill the virus. Keeping adequate numbers of litter boxes can also help minimize exposure to other cats’ feces.
Feline Cancer According to the ASPCA website, feline cancer is a class of diseases in which cells grow uncontrollably, invade surrounding tissue and may spread to other areas of the body. As with humans, cats can have various forms of cancer that may be localized to one area (like a tumor) or generalized (spread throughout the body). There is no one single cause for cancer, although both hereditary and environmental factors can lead to the development of cancer in cats.
Symptoms of cancer in cats may include:
Persistent sores or skin infections
Abnormal discharge from any part of the body
Listlessness, lethargy or other marked change in behavior
Diarrhea or vomiting
Scaly and/or red skin patches
Decreased or loss of appetite
Difficulty breathing, urinating or defecating
Change in behavior
Diagnosing Cancer in Cats
If a lump is present, the first step is typically a needle biopsy, which removes a very small tissue sample for microscopic examination of cells. Alternately, surgery may be performed to remove all or part of the lump for diagnosis by a pathologist.
Radiographs, ultrasound, blood evaluation and other diagnostic tests may also be helpful in determining if cancer is present or if it has spread.
Keeping your cat indoors will protect her from certain skin cancers caused by repeated sun exposure and sunburn.
Breast cancer is a common cancer for cats, but it can be avoided by having your cat spayed before her first heat cycle.
Treatment options vary and depend on the type and stage of cancer.
Common treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy or a combination of therapies. Success of treatment depends on the form and extent of the cancer and the aggressiveness of the therapy. Of course, early detection is best.
Some cat owners opt for no treatment of the cancer, in which case palliative care, including pain relief, should be considered. Regardless of how you proceed after a diagnosis of cancer in your pet, it is very important to consider his quality of life when making future decisions.
Some cancers can be cured, and almost all patients can receive at least some benefit from treatment. Please note that if your cat’s cancer is not curable, there are still many things you can do to make your pet feel better. Don’t hesitate to talk to your vet about your options. And remember good nutrition and loving care can greatly enhance your cat’s quality of life.