Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

U of I logoCollege of Veterinary Medicine

Back to search page.

Feline Infectious Peritonitis, a Deadly Disease


Pet Column for the week of January 13, 1997


Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
By Joseph Hahn
Information Specialist

Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) is a deadly virus that lethally infects cats and, until
recently, had no vaccination. While there is no cure, there are preventive measures that can
be taken to reduce the risk of your cat contracting this disease.

FIP is part of the coronavirus family that also includes the less deadly feline enteric
coronavirus (FECV), say veterinarians at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary
Medicine. FECV causes mild intestinal upset in kittens. Vomiting, diarrhea, and a low fever
are common signs. Adults infected with FECV generally show no signs of disease.

FIP affects the membrane lining in the intestines, causing them to be inflamed and destroying
them. Two forms of this disease are recognized by veterinarians, a wet form and a dry
form.

The wet form of FIP is characterized by fluid accumulation in various organs of the body.
This will cause swelling of the abdomen and the chest, making it difficult for the cat to
breathe. Additional signs may include depression, loss of appetite, pale gums, and a chronic
fever that is unresponsive to antibiotic therapy.

The dry form of FIP will have many signs similar to the wet form. The major difference is
the lack of fluid accumulation. The dry form, however, may also affect the eyes or central
nervous system.

FIP is difficult to diagnose by blood tests. Biopsy and examination at a diagnostic lab is a
more accurate means of diagnosis. A diagnosis of FIP is often made after ruling out other
diseases with similar clinical signs.

There are a number of steps that can be taken to help minimize the risk of your cat
contracting FIP. Since FIP (and FECV) are transmitted in feces, excellent hygiene is
important in reducing risk. Keeping cats exclusively indoors and away from strays will also
help reduce the risk.

There is a relatively new vaccine available for FIP. It is a liquid that is squirted in the cat's
nasal passages. This vaccine is a modified form of the virus that will survive in the lower
temperatures of the nasal passages, where it will cause a protective immune response but
will not cause the disease. The form of the virus in the vaccine cannot survive at the higher
internal temperatures in the cat's intestine, where the virus would normally cause damage.
More research is still needed to determine the effectiveness of this vaccine.

There is currently no treatment for FIP. Corticosteroids or some cancer therapy drugs may
provide some relief to the clinical signs of this disease. They do not cure it. The best
candidates for this treatment are those cats who are eating well, are in good physical health,
have no severe anemia, are negative for FeLV, and have no apparent central nervous
system involvement. Few infected cats will have these ideal conditions.

If you have any questions or suspect that your cat has FIP, contact your local veterinarian