Last November Milo, and his kitty buddy Mumford, were adopted into their new home. Two kittens usually have energy to spare, love to play hard, and try to keep up with each other. Around Christmas time, the family noticed some changes happening to Milo. His tummy was becoming bigger, and by January, he was eating only half of his usual amount of food. His energy level had dropped substantially, especially noticeable in comparison to Mumford. Milo came to see me on January 19.
Milo’s examination brought up some serious concerns. He was thin, despite having a large belly full of fluid. He wasn’t grooming himself and his fur was unkempt. This is a sign that a cat is lethargic and is not feeling well. Unfortunately for Milo, feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) was on the top of the list of possible reasons for his illness.
FIP is a viral disease caused by a virulent strain of the feline enteric coronavirus. Most coronaviruses in cats live in the intestine, and do not cause any problems other than occasional transient diarrhea. These viruses are transferred from the mother cat to the kittens, and can pass easily between cats sharing litter boxes. In a small percentage of cats, these innocuous coronaviruses mutate into the FIP virus and move out of the intestine into the body where they set up a severe reaction. This severe reaction causes the symptoms of the disease called infectious peritonitis. The most common symptoms are fluid build up in the belly or chest, fever, weight loss and poor appetite. Sometimes there is a ‘dry’ form without the fluid build up. These patients can be more challenging to diagnose.
FIP is a fatal disease. The body never wins its battle with the mutated virus. It is all the more tragic as it predominately affects kittens and young cats less than two years of age. There is no specific test for FIP. Diagnosis is made on the history, examination findings, and changes on blood work and radiographs. This will help us rule out other diseases, and give us clues that the body is fighting the FIP virus. Ultimately, it is the patient that lets us know, because the illness progress and the appetite wanes.
Milo’s story does not have a happy ending. When he stopped eating, the decision was made to end his life peacefully and humanely. His family was kind enough in their time of loss to allow me to use Milo’s case to bring attention to this terrible viral disease.