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FIP: Rare, yet fatal


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Monday, 09 de March 2009

FIP: Rare, yet fatal
Without a safe vaccination, a reliable diagnosis and, especially, with no cure to be found yet, FIP is the most deadly infection for cats. Once it is diagnosed, the cat’s life expectancy goes down to two years left.

Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) is caused by one of the many variants of the Coronavirus. The presence of the Coronavirus in the cats’ organism is usually a benign condition that doesn’t cause any symptoms and which cats’ immune system is usually able of fighting back efficiently. In fact, most cat owners don’t even get to realize that their cat has been infected by such virus. In 1 to 3% of those cases, however, the Coronavirus degenerates into a self-immune variant that most of the times is fatal.

The immune system

The FIP’s progress is mostly inherent to the condition in which the immune system is. It usually comes up in cats with a rather poor immune system. Young cats’ immune system is still undeveloped until they’re about two years old. Elderly cats, from 14 years old onwards, have their immune system weakened and adult cats might have a damaged immune system as a result of stress.

Cats that suffer from other diseases that affect their immune system, such as leukaemia (FeLV) or cats’ type of ‘aids’ (FIV), are evidently more exposed to the development of FIP. On the other hand, if the cat’s immune system fights the disease back, it won’t slow down but actually grow even faster.

Carrying FIP

Not all cats with the Coronavirus on their bodies get to develop the symptoms of this disease. Some start to develop the symptoms months or even years after getting infected and may infect other cats throughout that period.

Changes of getting infected are higher for those that either make contact with stray cats or live together with other cats at home. Make contact with stray felines is not exactly the same as walking the cat, but it is true that the cats with the lower risk of getting the disease are the ones that don’t usually leave the house and don’t live with other pets at home

Types of FIP

There are two types of FIP: the Effusive (or Wet) one and the Non-effusive (or Dry) one. Both can lead to diarrhea, weight lost and lethargy. The FIP is not about an inflammation of the peritoneum but actually a vasculitis, which is a swelling of the blood vessels.

Non-effusive or Dry FIP

The Dry variation of the disease is the chronic expression of FIP, which unless it gets treated may generate the wet variation. It is harder to diagnose because its symptoms are not exclusive to this disease.


Wounds and injuries start to occur all over the cat’s body and the symptoms emerge accordingly to the organs affected (like the kidneys or the liver, for instance). Many of the affected cats start to suffer from eye soreness and/or neurological problems, like strokes and paralysis. Dry FIP infected cats can also suffer from jaundice, which makes their skin look yellow, particularly noticeable on the nose.

Effusive or Wet FIP

This is the most serious type of FIP, because the dry FIP symptoms are here joined by fluids retention, which results from the damages on the blood vessels.


In 60 to 70% of the cases of Wet FIP, there is fluid accumulation in the cat’s body, with particular incidence on the abdomen, which generates an abdominal soreness. It can also happen on the chest, increasing the chances of additional breathing problems.


Perceiving FIP on a cat is not as easy as it might initially seem to be. This condition’s symptoms are shared by other diseases and there is still no reliable method to identify it that never gives false positives nor false negatives.

Diagnosing methods

  • ELISA test – this is the examination that tries to identify the presence of Coronavirus antibodies on the cat. However, the presence of such antibodies might come as a symptom of a Coronavirus variant other than FIP. The antibodies remain there even after the virus is gone, which means the cat might have been infected with the Coronavirus before but is not anymore.
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) – is one of the tests that specifically search for FIP, but it is not completely reliable as it may occur false positives, since the presence of the virus does not assure that there is a disease.
  • Analysis of the abdominal and chest fluids / X-Ray – It is only useful for wet FIP cases.
  • Analysis of the kidney and liver cells – It is done with local anaesthesia and through suction. It can also be useful to identify other illnesses.
  • Biopsy – This is the only reliable way of detecting FIP. Still, it is way too risky to put a probably ill animal through surgery in order to collect samples of an organ. Indeed, many of the positive FIP diagnosis are obtained after the animal’s death while a biopsy was taking place.
  • Several blood tests – This is usually the most useful and efficient method, since it approaches to an almost perfect reliability, even though it doesn’t reach the 100% sureness. Several combinations of blood test values can be made, like for instance: low numbers of white cells, a high rate of globulin and a positive test result to the presence of the Coronavirus – it is an almost sure indication of a FIP condition.


Unfortunately, there is still no cure nor an efficient treatment for FIP. Cats are, therefore, medicated in order to ease or eliminate some of the symptoms. A definite cure for this condition is still to be found.


In cases where the symptoms are clearly noticeable and there is a solid diagnosis, euthanasia is an almost inevitable ending. Being treated may temporarily relieve the cat from the symptoms, but ultimately the disease will grow further and euthanasia is usually a more human thing to do than to carry on with the cat’s suffering condition. There are rare cases where cats recover from FIP, but these are indeed the exception that proves the rule.

Before you make a decision, make sure it is really FIP what your cat is suffering from, since not all Coronavirus degenerate into that condition, as already mentioned above.


It is still rather unclear how the Coronavirus is passed in between cats, but it is known that the virus survives for three weeks at a regular temperature and that the animals’ secretions are a hugely infectious focus. It is assumed that the main ways of transmission are the ingestion of faeces and sneezing.

There is some controversy about the positive diagnosis in cats that live along with other felines at home. In general, it is highly recommended for the infected cat to be isolated from the others, in order to avoid spreading the virus. However, on the other hand, this will also accelerate the disease’s process of growth due to the stress that the cat is put through. Even if a reliable search for FIP is not made on the other cats that live in the same house, it is highly probable that they are already infected as well.
In case you decide on keeping all the cats together, it is most likely for them all to develop the disease and then have the same fate, that is, euthanasia. You should seek advice from the veterinarian and discuss with him/her about the best way of dealing with FIP and holding it down.

FIP is cannot be caught by humans nor other non-feline animals, even though the Coronavirus can be found on humans too.
Hygiene is an elementary step in order to avoid this condition, because the virus is on the cat’s faeces, hence the litter box must be cleaned up on a daily basis. A common antiseptic is well enough to eradicate the virus.

Along with such precautions, you should also make sure that the infected cat is feeling good at home with its family. Stressed-up cats are much more vulnerable to the development of FIP, as well as many other illnesses.
A vaccine was already made available, but its efficiency is still to be confirmed as it is still quite recent. Many studies about it come to different, opposite conclusions, so you should follow your vet’s instructions on the matter. This vaccine is generally only given to cats that are going to live in a house where the virus has already been or that are going to be in touch with stray cats.
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