Feline FIP: A Veterinarian's Personal Story
I painfully learned about Feline FIP, feline infectious peritonitis, long before I became a veterinarian. In fact, FIP in cats is a major reason that I ended up becoming a feline veterinarian.
I had never even heard of FIP the day my kitten suddenly had hazy eyes. All I knew was that something was very wrong with my kitty's ordinarily gorgeous cat eyes. They appeared very cloudy inside, and it didn't take long for me to realize that he couldn't see.
I didn't know what could be responsible for the change in his vision. Just the day before, my kitten was playing with his kitten toys, eating his kitten food and acting, in every way, like a perfectly normal kitten.
The symptoms of FIP in cats were totally unknown to me. All I knew was that I was very frightened when I realized he couldn't see, so I called the veterinarian right away. Unfortunately, my veterinarian, whom I had great faith in, said to just continue the cat medication and that was all we could do. He didn't even want to re-examine my kitten again. I was in some sense relieved, and yet, I couldn't shake the feeling that there was something more serious going on.
As evening turned to night, it was apparent that the kitten's eyes were even more cloudy. My gut told me I needed to do more right away. My husband and I jumped into our car and began a 2 1/2 hour drive to New York City, my precious scared kitty clinging to me all the way.
Diagnosing FIP in Cats
The Animal Medical Center in Manhattan is an amazing place. At the time, I had never seen or imagined anything like it. It looked just like a hospital for people, but was for animals. It was there that I learned that the possible causes of my kitten's eye problems were Feline Peritonitis, Feline Leukemia, or Toxoplasmosis.
I had enough experience with the care of kittens that I was very familiar with the Feline Leukemia virus and also knew about Feline Toxoplasmosis, but had no clue what Feline FIP was. The veterinarian made it clear, however, that it wasn't good. Feline Infectious Peritonitis seemed to carry a death sentence.
I set out to learn everything possible about the deadly virus that causes FIP in cats while I waited for my kitten's test results. By the time the results came back a couple of days later, I knew more than I ever wanted to know about Feline FIP. Worst of all, I knew it was supposed to indeed be a death sentence if my kitten's test was positive. No amount of cat medicine was going to help my kitten if he had feline infectious peritonitis.
The results of the feline FIP test were positive. I was advised to euthanize my little kitten. I was told I needed to euthanize him so that he wouldn't be around my other cats and infect them. FIP in cats can be very contagious. Although I loved my other cats dearly, I was also already crazy about this kitten and just couldn't accept this news as the only alternative.
So I continued my journey to find out everything there was to know about Feline FIP and to learn if there was possibly a feline infectious peritonitis treatment. I read everything I could get my hands on about cat FIP, and even started calling veterinary schools around the country in an attempt to find out anything I could about fip treatment. I was desperate to find someone who would tell me how to save my kitten's life.
Learning About the Symptoms of FIP in Cats
I learned that Feline Infectious Peritonitis, FIP, is a contagious, very serious virus that infects cats of all ages, but primarily kittens. I found out that the cloudy appearance in my kitten's eyes was caused by a condition called anterior uveitis, inflammation in the front chamber of the eye. This condition is one of the symptoms that you may see with fip in cats.
- weight loss
- poor hair coat
- loss of appetite.
I also learned that there are two types of Feline FIP:
(1) wet (effusive) and
(2) dry (noneffusive).
Cats with the noneffusive type of FIP may have weight loss, lethary, fever, and anemia, but will not accumulate fluid in the abdomen or chest.
The wet, or effusive, type of FIP in cats can share the same symptoms as the dry form, such as fever, loss of appetite, weight loss, and lethargy, but is primarily identified by the collection of fluid in the abdomen and occasionally the chest. The amount of fluid may increase quickly and make it difficult for the cat to breathe.
It appeared that my kitten, Noodles, had the dry form of feline FIP in cats which was causing the inflammation in his eyes and his fever and his decreased appetite and lethargy. I was devastated, but still determined to do anything I could to save his life.
One of the veterinary schools I called, the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University, was exceptionally helpful and I suddenly found myself talking to Dr. Johnny Hoskins, whom I have since come to know as one of the FIP experts of the world. I couldn’t understand why a busy Cornell Professor with students to supervise, classes to teach, journal articles to write, lectures and traveling to do would get on the phone with me, a nobody in the world of veterinary medicine at the time, to talk about my kitten and Feline FIP.
But he did. And I will forever be grateful and have tried to pay it forward when others have come to me over the years for help during my busy times.
In a nutshell, I learned that FIP tests are unreliable in providing a definite diagnosis, that almost all cats with FIP die quickly, that my other cats had already been exposed, and that there was feline infectious peritonitis treatment I could try. A handful of cats had survived FIP and I was determined to give my kitten, Noodles, the best chance possible to become one of those cats.
Feline Infectious Peritonitis Treatment
I was warned that chances were slim to none, but that if I wanted to treat Noodles, I would give him steroids by mouth and in his eyes and try to keep him eating. I also added, on my own, a special Vitamin C powder that was being sold for cats with various feline viral diseases.
For several months, Noodles received his steroids and Vitamin C and chicken baby food which was all he would eat. FIP in cats causes a decrease in appetite so it was difficult to get him to eat. He was quiet, but comfortable. Not playful like a kitten should be, but he ate, slept, cuddled and seemed content.
Miraculously, over the next months, he slowly improved, his eyes cleared up completely and he had perfect vision and he began to play and eat better.
15 years later, Noodles had to be euthanized from an entirely unrelated condition, after living 15 glorious years as my best feline friend ever.
There are those who will say he probably never had Feline FIP or he wouldn’t have lived. However, I feel strongly that he did especially after going on to Veterinary School myself and practicing for over 20 years now in my own feline only hospital. I have learned even more about FIP in cats and have had numerous patients with the disease.
Since Noodles, I have diagnosed and treated and, unfortunately, euthanized many cats with Feline FIP. I have attended numerous seminars on FIP in cats and read every new bit of information that comes along. I have consulted further with the FIP experts of the world, including Dr. Hoskins, who saved Noodle’s life by giving me hope and suggesting and encouraging treatment when no one else would.
Several years later, when I had become a feline veterinarian, Dr Hoskins again guided me through another FIP case that went on to live to the ripe old age of 18. That cat had all the signs of FIP as well as all the positive test results AND had an intestinal biopsy that confirmed the presence of the FIP-type lesion in the tissue. He was also treated with prednisolone and slowly recovered.
It is rare to recover from FIP. However, there are reports of more and more cats who have recovered. There's a wonderful website with more information about FIP in cats, including information about experimental treatments and accounts of cats who have survived.
You can also hear more about research progress regarding FIP in cats in our radio show discussion with Steve Dale:
Most recently, I have worked with another cat with FIP. He was treated oral prednisolone, a variety of vitamins, antibiotics, and Feline Interferon. The feline interferon is very expensive and had to be imported from Great Britain, but this kitty's loving owner was determined to do everything possible to save his cat's life. While he did exceed the length of time I originally thought he would live, he was still, sadly, one of the many victims of FIP.
Click below to see questions or stories about feline FIP from other cat lovers...
Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) or FIV: Which do you think it was?
Possible feline FIP in vomiting kitten?
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