FIP – What is it and should I be worried?

July 21, 2023

Some of you may have seen the recent media reports regarding a significant outbreak in Cyprus of FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitis) caused by a type of coronavirus. It is important to understand that this Coronavirus is different from the one causing COVID and has therefore not been identified as a risk to humans.

How could my cat develop FIP?

Feline coronavirus is spread via faeces. FIP occurs due to the spontaneous mutation of a very common variant of coronavirus that is thought to affect up to 40% of household cats without causing any problems. In multi-cat households or colonies this number increases closer to 100%. It is thought that factors such as high cat density and stress, together with a change in an individual’s immune response can trigger the change in the coronavirus to one that causes FIP. The disease is mostly seen in cats under 2 years of age, with the majority affected being between 4 and 12 months old.

What are the signs of FIP?

In many cats, signs may develop over a period of weeks to months. They may start with a fluctuating fever, lethargy and inappetence, progressing to breathing difficulties and a swollen fluid filled abdomen in some cases. Confirmation of the disease can be difficult as there is no single reliable test for FIP. Putting the clinical findings, age and typical changes on haematology together with PCR confirmation will however, give us a likely diagnosis.

What is the prognosis if my cat has FIP?

Unfortunately, many cases of FIP have historically proven to be fatal. Since 2021 however, there has been legal access in the UK to an antiviral agent that has shown to be effective in successfully treating some cases. The drawbacks of this medication however are its very high cost (up to £6000) and the need for medication to be given daily for a total of 84 days. Some variations of this protocol exist but the drawbacks are still similar.

How can I minimise the risk of FIP?

Try to source cats or kittens from small group environments. If you do have a multi-cat household (i.e. more than 4 cats) aim for a ratio of a maximum of 2 cats per litter tray. Keep the environment clean and freshen litter trays as soon as soiling is evident. Minimise stress.

Is the reported Cyprus outbreak a cause for concern?

From our knowledge of feline coronavirus, we know that FIP already occurs here in the UK. We also know that our feline population demonstrates a significantly different demographic here too. As yet, although there has been an increase in the number of cases of FIP reported in Cyprus between January to April 2023, there is no proven evidence to confirm why this is happening. Recommendations have been made to check coronavirus levels in all cats from Cyprus prior to entering the UK. This, together with the benefit of understanding of how FIP may arise, allows vets to monitor the situation and we can get a clearer idea of the risk to the UK cat population, if any.

If you have any concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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