By Elisa Black-Taylor
According to the Cornell Chronicle issue dated June 21, 2013, scientists at the university have identified the exact changes that turn a harmless virus into the deadly virus responsible for feline infectious peritonitis (FIP). This is a major breakthrough, as research has been going on for 30+ years in hopes of finding the mutation that causes the virus.
FIP is a disease of the intestines, affecting domestic as well as wild cats worldwide. It has two forms: wet and dry. The wet form is characterized by fluid accumulating in the abdomen, while the dry form includes small masses which appear on various organs. While it may be possible to extend the life of a cat infected with the dry form, one with the wet form usually dies within a few months of diagnosis. Sometimes within days.
Until the Cornell University research, no one knew what turned the coronavirus into FIP. It’s recently been discovered that a particular mutant cell common to coronavirus will infiltrate white blood cells. The speed at which this mutant cell travels causes the cat to be unable to fight off the virus.
Virology professor Gary Whittaker believes the new breakthrough in identifying the mutant cells will lead to saving the lives of humans and ferrets, who are also susceptible to coronaviruses. For the first time in 30 years, it may now be possible to develop effective treatments and vaccines to save a cat from dying from what until now has been seen as a death sentence.
FIP is a reaction to the mutation caused by the coronavirus. And the coronavirus statistics are very high in households with multiple cats. Up to 40% in one or two cat households, and as much as 100% in crowded shelters and feral colonies or homes with many cats.
One of the problems associated with both forms of FIP is a fever that won’t respond to antibiotic therapy. Cats with FIP lose their appetite, their energy and eventually their body mass. IF they live long enough after diagnosis for all of these to occur.
There is an intranasal vaccine available, but it’s use is controversial. According to the 2000 Report of the American Association of Feline Practitioners and Academy of Feline Medicine Advisory Panel on Feline Vaccines it was stated “at this time, there is no evidence that the vaccine induces clinically relevant protection, and its use is not recommended.” More recent studies on the FIP vaccine still don’t recommend it. Not only does it have some nasty side effects, it’s also not very effective.
FIP is one of the scariest diseases out there for cats. Treatment revolves around keeping the cat comfortable for the time it has left to live. It’s been a difficult disease to diagnose, as it’s been unable to distinguish FIP from coronavirus in lab tests. Most cases are diagnosed by vets either based on a cats symptoms, fluid samples or organ biopsies. Some have been diagnosed through necropsy after the cat has died from the disease.
I like to stay up to date on advances in FIP. Both as a reporter as well as a cat owner who lost a very precious cat named Tramp to FIP back in 1993. There’s nothing more heartbreaking than to receive a diagnosis of FIP, knowing traditional treatment would only extend the cats life. Most cat lovers I’ve spoken with on this disease had the same hopes I did when faced with a cat who had developed this disease. We each think we will have one of the very few cats to ever survive FIP. And I do mean very few, as the death rate is close to 100%. You feel helpless as you try to make your cat comfortable, even though you know you can only provide love and compassion as you watch the disease progress.
Hopefully this breakthrough by Cornell University means possible irradiation in the not too distant future.