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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

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Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) is one of the most frustrating cat diseases that I have ever had to deal with. We usually can’t prevent it, we can’t really treat it (other than symptomatically), it’s relatively common (more so than we used to think), and it’s invariably fatal.

Don’t lose heart though, it looks like things may be about to change for the better.

First a bit of background. FIP is caused by a coronavirus. This particular virus infects a lot of kittens, usually causing some mild diarrhea, and then most often is never heard from again. In some cats, however, the immune system is unsuccessful at fighting it off and the virus mutates into a form that results in the disease FIP.

The most common symptoms of FIP are pretty nonspecific, including:

  • fever
  • lethargy
  • depression
  • loss of appetite and weight

Some cats develop eye infections, while others might have neurologic abnormalities or difficulty breathing.

In the "wet" form of FIP, fluid accumulates in the abdomen or chest. If no such fluid accumulations are found, a cat is said to have "dry" FIP.

Diagnosing cats with FIP is not easy. Immunological testing is available but is not good at differentiating between individuals that have been exposed to the "diarrhea-causing" form of the virus versus those that have current FIP infections. In cats with wet FIP, the fluid is often fairly characteristic: You can stretch long strings of it out between your fingers because of its high protein content. This may be enough to lead to an FIP diagnosis when the cat’s symptoms also all point in that direction.

The dry form of FIP is often a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning that a veterinarian has to rule out other potential causes of a cat’s symptoms and then is left saying, "There’s not much else left to explain what’s going on; it’s probably FIP." Tissue biopsies are an option when a definitive diagnosis is desired.

Now that I’ve thoroughly depressed you, let me give you the good news.

A new drug is currently under investigation that might help cats with the dry form of FIP. The drug is called polyprenyl immunostimulant (PI); it is a medication derived from plants that helps the body fight off viral diseases. The studies are ongoing, but some of the FIP kitties being treated with PI are doing surprisingly well. One cat has lived for five years and others have seen a dramatic decrease in their symptoms and seem to be thriving. Unfortunately, not every cat in the study responded so well to PI, and previous research did not show any benefit in treating cats suffering from wet FIP with the drug.

Still, any hope in the FIP arena is reason to celebrate.

PI should gain conditional licensure for treatment of rhinotracheitis in cats in the not too distant future. Once it is available, veterinarians will have the option of using it "off-label" for FIP cats when they feel it is in their patient’s best interest.

On a final note: This is my last post for The Daily Vet, but have no fear, I’m just moving "down the dial" here at petMD to take over Fully Vetted. Dr. Lorie Huston will be taking over these Monday cat blogs next week. I’m looking forward to hearing her take on all things feline.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Pic of the day: "Taek mah hand, mastah." by stratman2 (Flickr backlog!)

 orange cat, fip cat, sick cat

Comments  5

Leave Comment
  • Great News!
    09/26/2011 07:10am

    What great news that there might finally be something to help fight viral infections.

    FIP is an awful, scary thing. Rhinotracheitis runs rampant in many shelters and ends up being a death sentence for many kitties. How horrible it must be. First you lose your home and you end up in a scary, noisy place with all sorts of funny smells. Then you get sick with rhinotracheitis and many times end up being euthanized.

  • FIP question
    09/27/2011 04:16am

    Can cat with wet FIP still have healthy appitite?

  • 09/27/2011 09:21am

    In the early stages, yes, but as cats gets sicker they generally feel so bad that the appetite fades.

  • Thanks
    09/29/2011 11:27pm

    Thanks for the warm welcome, Dr. Jennifer. I'm so pleased to be joining the team here at The Daily Vet though your shoes will be hard to fill. And I can't wait to see what you have in store for Fully Vetted.

  • FIP
    08/15/2012 11:58am

    I have just lost 2 cats to FIP. They were litter mates a female and a male 14 years old. It was devasting to go thru this twice in 2 weeks. Their mother was a dessert linx and father a Maine coon cat. It was horrible to see them go down hill so quickly with no hope of survival. I hope this new discovery will help other cats and eventually some thing will be discovered that prevents this.

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