FIP are the three worst letters a cat guardian can hear. Feline Infectious Peritonitis is caused by a coronavirus and affects the cells of the intestinal tract. The corona virus in itself is a common virus in cats, and cats may not even show symptoms other than perhaps a mild gastrointestinal upset. But for reasons that have eluded researchers so far, in some cats, the benign virus mutates into a highly infectious version that then causes FIP. It usually affects kittens and young cats, and it’s virtually 100% fatal. FIP kills as many as 1 in 100 to 1 in 300 cats under ages 3-5.
The good news is that there are studies under way that bring hope for a future in which cats can be diagnosed, treated and cured of this devastating disease. Morris Animal Foundation, a world leader in advancing veterinary research that protects, treats and cures animals on every continent, is currently funding two studies.
Dr. Gary Whitaker, a researcher at Cornell University, is evaluating mutations in the viruses that cause FIP, as well as the genetic factors predisposing cats to FIP. There are two types of feline coronaviruses. One only causes mild gastrointestinal illness, and one leads to FIP. Current diagnostics cannot identify which viral strain a cat is carrying, because they are genetically similar. Since coronavirus infections are highly contagious, this presents a serious challenge to animal shelters and catteries. Dr. Whitaker’s ultimate goal is to develop a diagnostic tool for preventing FIP outbreaks in shelter cats.
At Western University of Health Sciences, Dr. Yvonne Drechsel is also conducting research to identify risk factors and related genes that lead to the development of FIP. Since FIP pathology is poorly understood, she hopes that her background in virology and immunology will help advance the knowledge about the disease through this project.
The challenge for studies like these, and others, are that research requires money, and feline health studies are notoriously underfunded. In the opening remarks of last year’s Winn Feline Symposium, Steve Dale’s statement that ”if FIP happened in the dog world, there would already be a cure” was met with thundering applause from the audience.
How can you help?
Educate yourself about the disease and raise awareness. It’s a devastating disease – both physically for the affected cats, and emotionally for the cats’ owners. Help keep hope for a cure alive by contributing financially to organizations that fund FIP research.
Winn Feline Foundation is a non-profit organization established in 1968 that supports studies to improve cat health. If you have a cat, it has benefited in some way from the work this foundation does.
The Bria Fund for FIP Research provides funding for FIP research.
SOCK FIP (Save Our Cats and Kittens from Feline Infectious Peritonitis) is a global consortium of cat lovers, breeders, rescue groups, veterinarians and geneticists who are working together to support research on feline infectious peritonitis at the UC Davis Center for Companion Animal Health (CCAH).