Feline Infectious Peritonitis is a very real concern to all cat parents; it doesn’t matter if you’re a breeder, in rescue or just mom or dad to a moggie or two. FIP in cats doesn’t discriminate. For too long it has been seen as a scourge; as a disease that must be kept hushed and whispered about behind closed doors. But that comes from ignorance and not understanding what this disease really means.
It all starts very innocuously with the very common coronavirus. All species are affected by this virus; it’s essentially nothing more than the flu! But it’s what happens when that virus is given the chance to mutate that it turns into the monster we know of as FIP. There aren’t many words or phrases that can instil fear as much as those three letters.
There are numerous strains of the coronavirus, FCoV, but only two affect cats. FCoV biotypes are namely FeCV and FIPV; these two biotypes are genetically indistinguishable and cannot be differentiated in any blood test. FeCV, or the ‘good twin’ * is the enteric form of the disease. It is highly contagious but not very pathogenic. FeCV is usually shed in the faeces and transmission is via the faecal/oral route – so litter hygiene is of paramount importance. FIPV, or the ‘bad twin’ is the pathogenic form of the virus. FIPV is not highly contagious but is pathogenic. It is rarely shed in faeces and it is this strain that is at risk to mutate. However, because these two biotypes are genetically indistinguishable we will refer to FCoV throughout when discussing FIP. Coronaviruses affect all felidae from the big cats to domestic cats to ferals. Over the next few weeks different aspects of the disease will be discussed – what it actually is to how it is diagnosed and what hope there may be on the horison in terms of treatments.
Resources are bountiful but as with everything some hold more credibility than others. And this is where we need to separate the myth from the truth. FIP is rare. FIP is often misdiagnosed. 95% of cats will be exposed to and be infected with the coronavirus. It is a harmless virus that affects the enteric system of cats. Cats who have been infected will present with mild sneezing and some diarrhoea. But the cat soon clears this virus and carries on as if nothing happened. A cat can be reinfected with the coronavirus but as long as it has a healthy immune system and antibodies then there is no concern. But in less than 5% of cases something goes wrong. It is not a simple process and the best way to explain what happens is to see it as a four-facetted mechanism. The first is that the cat has to have been exposed to the coronavirus. Second, there needs to be an error in a specific gene. Those two alone are still not enough to cause the mutation. Two further factors are needed, namely a compromised immune system as well as some kind of stressor. Only once each of these factors have been met will the coronavirus move from a mild enteric disease into the monster we know.
This is now where much of the misinformation exists and that is what FIP Awareness is all about. FIP Awareness sets out to debunk the myth and correctly educate all as to what FIP is. The very first fact that needs to be stressed is that FIP is not contagious. Coronavirus however is. And even though coronavirus is contagious, a positive coronavirus titre does not equate to FIP. Every mutation is different and each case of FIP is independent making this a particularly difficult disease to pinpoint.
Written by Aurora Lambrecht