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 Feline Infectious Peritonitis

What is Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP)? 

FIP is a viral disease that occurs worldwide in wild and domestic cats. It is caused by a type of virus called a coronavirus, which tends to attack the cells of the intestinal wall. In 1970, the coronavirus that causes FIP was isolated and characterized. In 1981, another coronavirus was isolated. Although this virus is nearly identical to the FIP virus, cats who were infected with it developed only very mild diarrhea and recovered easily.

What Are the Symptoms of FIP?

FIP manifests in a “wet” form and a “dry” form. Signs of both forms include fever that doesn’t respond to antibiotics, anorexia, weight loss and lethargy. In addition, the wet form of FIP is characterized by accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity, the chest cavity, or both. Cats with fluid in the chest exhibit laboured breathing. Cats with fluid in the abdomen show progressive, non-painful abdominal distension. In the dry form of FIP, small accumulations of inflammatory cells, or granulomas, form in various organs, and clinical signs depend on which organ is affected. If the kidneys are affected, excessive thirst and urination, vomiting and weight loss are seen; if the liver, jaundice. The eyes and the neurologic system are frequently affected, as well.

How Is FIP Diagnosed?

Diagnosing FIP is challenging. Despite the claims made by some laboratories and test manufacturers, there is currently no test that can distinguish between the harmless intestinal coronavirus and the deadly FIP coronavirus. A positive test may support the veterinarian’s suspicions, but by itself is inconclusive. It means only that a cat has been exposed to and may be harbouring a coronavirus. A negative test usually (but not always) indicates that the cat is unlikely to have FIP.

If a cat has what appears to be the wet form of the disease, laboratory analysis of some of the fluid can support a diagnosis of FIP. A 1994 study reported that cats with signs suggestive of FIP, who also had a high coronavirus antibody level, reduced numbers of lymphocytes and high levels of globulins in the bloodstream, had an 88.9 percent probability of having FIP. Diagnosing the dry form of the disease is even more challenging, often requiring biopsy of affected organs.

How Is FIP Treated?

FIP is fatal in more than 95 percent of cases. In mild cases of the dry form, 

it may be possible to prolong the survival period, but most cats with the wet form 

of the disease die within two months of the onset of signs. 

Fortunately, the disease is very uncommon. In households containing only one or two cats, the FIP mortality rate is around one in 5,000.

Is There a Vaccine for FIP?

An intranasal vaccine was developed to prevent FIP in cats, but it has been 

controversial. Some studies show that it protects against disease, while others show that it offers little benefit. The 2000 Report of the American Association of Feline Practitioners and Academy of Feline Medicine Advisory Panel on Feline Vaccines states that “at this time, there is no evidence that the vaccine induces clinically relevant protection, and its use is not recommended.”

 Feline Distemper 

 (Feline Panleukopenia Virus)

What is Feline Distemper?

Feline panleukopenia virus (FPV, pan-loo-ko-peeneea), also commonly referred 

to as feline distemper, is a highly contagious and life-threatening viral disease

 in the cat population. Feline distemper is actually a misnomer, as the virus is 

closely related to the canine parvovirus.

This panleukopenia virus affects the rapidly dividing blood cells in the body, 

primarily the cells in the intestinal tract, bone marrow and skin.

 The name means pan- (all) leuko- (white blood cells) -penia (lack of), meaning that all of the

 body’s defense cells are killed by the virus.

Because the blood cells are under attack, this virus can lead to an anemic condition, and it can 

open the body to infections from other illnesses—viral or bacterial.

In the unvaccinated population, panleukopenia is one of the deadliest cat diseases. 

The causative virus is very resilient and can survive for years in 

contaminated environments, so vaccination is the best preventative available.

Kittens between the ages of two to six months are at highest risk for developing severe

 disease symptoms, as well as pregnant cats and immune compromised cats. 

In adult cats, panleukopenia usually occurs in a mild form and may even go unnoticed.

 Fortunately, cats who survive this infection are immune to any further infection with this virus.

Symptoms and Types


Diarrhea/bloody diarrhea


Weight loss

High fever

Anemia (due to lowered red blood cells)

Rough hair coat


Complete loss of interest in food


Neurological symptoms (e.g., lack of coordination)


The feline parvovirus (FPV) is the initiating cause for feline panleukopenia. 

Cats acquire this infection when they come into contact with infected blood, 

feces, urine or other bodily fluids. The virus can also be passed along by people who 

have not washed their hands appropriately or have not changed clothing 

between handling cats, or by materials such as bedding, food dishes or

 equipment that has been used for other cats.

Washing your hands with soap and water after handling any animal will 

minimize the chance of you passing infections to healthy animals.

This virus can remain on many surfaces, so it is important to practice safe and 

clean methods for preventing the transmission of this disease. However, even 

under the cleanest conditions, traces of the virus may remain in an environment in 

which an infected cat has been.

 The feline parvovirus is resistant to disinfectants and can remain in the 

environment for as long as a year, waiting for an opportunity.

Kittens can acquire this disease in utero or through breast milk if the pregnant 

or nursing mother should be infected. Generally, the prognosis is not good for kittens 

who have been exposed to this virus while in utero. Kittens may also be exposed in

 catteries, pet stores, shelters and boarding facilities.


You will need to give a thorough history of your cat's health and recent activities to your vet. Whether your cat has recently come into contact with other cats, or if she is generally 

permitted to go outside can be important in pointing your veterinarian in the right direction.

Panleukopenia can mimic many other types of diseased conditions, including poisoning, feline leukemia (FeLV), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), and pancreatitis, amongst

 others, so it is important to give your veterinarian as much detail as possible so that the appropriate treatment can be started immediately.

Your doctor will then perform a physical examination with routine laboratory

 tests, including a complete blood count, biochemistry profile and urinalysis. The routine 

laboratory testing results are usually non-specific, but the magnitude of blood cell loss 

will point your veterinarian towards panleukopenia.

The feline parvovirus attacks and kills the cells that rapidly divide, such as those

 produced in the bone marrow and intestines, so the blood count typically will show 

a decrease in white and red blood cells. 


Affected cats will require immediate treatment, and often hospitalization. The first major 

goal of treatment is to restore body fluid levels and electrolyte balance. Specific treatment

 will depend on the severity of your cat’s illness, but it is likely to include in-hospital care for 

several days in an isolation room to prevent spreading it to other animals.

Good supportive care can mean the difference between life and death. Once your cat is 

home from the hospital, you will need to isolate her from other cats until all the symptoms 

have resolved and your veterinarian gives the okay. This could take up to 6 weeks.

This infection has a particularly depressing effect on a cat's physical and mental health, 

and your cat will need affection and comfort during the recovery time. Needless to say, 

you will need to practice strict hygiene, and keeping in mind that this infection can

 remain on surfaces, make sure to stay especially clean after coming into contact with

 your sick cat, so that you are not unintentionally spreading the virus to other cats.

If your cat is treated promptly and effectively, she may recover fully. It may take a few 

weeks for your cat to feel completely back to normal. Unfortunately, mortality is as 

high as 90 percent for panleukopenia.

Living and Management

Follow your veterinarian's guidelines as far as dispensing medication, household 

disinfection and the necessity for quarantine. If you have other cats, you will need

 to observe them closely for signs of illness. Consult with your veterinarian regarding

 the possibility of vaccinating other cats in the home.

Everything that your cat touched should be deep-cleaned. Anything that can be 

machine washed and dried should be, and anything that is dishwasher-safe should be 

machine washed. This includes bedding, toys, dishes and litter boxes.

Again, keep in mind that even then, you may not be able to remove all traces of the 

virus. While your cat will not be susceptible to reinfection after it has recovered, 

other visiting cats can still be infected by contaminants that have been left behind.

Vaccination is the most important tool in the prevention of panleukopenia. 

Before you bring a new kitten into your home, find out whether it has been vaccinated.

 Luckily, the vaccine is so effective that just one dose prevents most infections. 

Be on the lookout for any signs of illness, especially in young kittens, and have your 

veterinarian examine your pet as soon as possible if you notice anything of concern.

PetMD Editorial

July 31, 2009