This viral disease, also known by its acronym as PIF, is life threatening . Although rare in house cats, its incidence increases in those felines that live in communities.
It is contagious and requires adequate and urgent treatment to ensure that our kitten does not suffer. That is why it is important to go to the vet as soon as we detect the first symptoms of the disease.
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What is feline infectious peritonitis?
This disease is caused by a coronavirus . Coronaviruses are not rare in cats and, in general, cause mild diarrhea that resolves without major complications. The problem is when the virus mutates within the cat’s body, leading to infectious peritonitis.
Therefore, it is important to be clear that the presence of coronavirus in a cat does not imply that it develops peritonitis. In fact, this pathology will affect a small percentage of cats.
A mutant virus
It is unknown how the coronavirus mutation occurs, but some factors that seem to influence it are identified. Thus, it is a more common disease in young cats . These kittens are the ones who suffer the most from stress .
Events such as arrival to a new home, frequent visits to the vet for vaccinations or spaying , etc., are causes of stress. Also, their immune system has not matured, making them more vulnerable. There also seems to be a certain genetic predisposition, with a higher percentage of cases being detected in purebred cats.
How is infectious peritonitis transmitted between cats?
It is quite common for cats to be infected by coronavirus, especially if they live in communities such as street colonies, shelters or kennels. The coronavirus is eliminated to the environment through the feces.
Cats in contaminated environments become infected by ingesting the virus , either when grooming or eating. These cats will shed the virus for a variable period of time and can reinfest themselves.
Symptoms of infectious peritonitis in kittens
In this disease, the clinical presentation can be highly variable, so there is no talk of its own symptoms. We will highlight those that are detected in what is known as wet peritonitis , which is the most common clinical form. They are as follows:
- Accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity, causing it to distend.
- The fluid is also located in the chest, causing pleural effusion, which makes breathing difficult by interfering with the functioning of the respiratory system, the heart and the diaphragm.
- Lethargy, that is, a decrease in habitual activity.
- Anorexia, that is, the cat stops eating.
- Eye inflammation.
- Damage to the neurological system that causes alterations in vision or behavior, incoordination when walking or tremors.
It is common for these symptoms to evolve quickly , causing the cat to die in a short time.
How to diagnose infectious peritonitis?
There is no test for sale to detect this disease. The biopsy does, but, as cats often enter the clinic so sick, it is usually only possible to do more than post mortem to confirm the diagnosis.
There are tests for the detection of coronaviruses but that a cat tests positive for these viruses does not imply that they have mutated to cause PIF nor does it give us information about whether they will do so in the future.
In addition, as this test detects antibodies , that is, the defenses that the body develops against the virus, there will be sick cats that test negative for not producing these antibodies. Therefore, it is usual for the veterinarian to diagnose infectious peritonitis only by observing symptoms that coincide, in large numbers, with the ones we have mentioned.
An X-ray or ultrasound will reveal if there is fluid accumulation in the chest or abdomen. The vet can take a sample of this liquid, which is usually yellowish in color, for analysis.
In addition, blood will be drawn from the cat to know its status and rule out other diseases. Patients with infectious peritonitis often have low white blood cells and anemia . In the initial phases there may be no alterations, so in suspected cases these tests are usually repeated.
Is infectious peritonitis curable?
Unfortunately, when the symptoms of the disease are evident, there is no effective treatment. Yes, medication can be administered to alleviate the symptoms. Euthanasia should be considered if the cat is suffering.
Can my cat give me infectious peritonitis?
No, as the name of this pathology indicates, it is a specific disease of felines , which can only be transmitted to each other. We must follow the prevention measures recommended in the next section. A cat cannot give infectious peritonitis to a human .
If we have had a sick cat and we live with more cats, it is necessary to take extreme hygiene measures. We recommend taking into account the following guidelines, aimed at avoiding contagion, which is through the orofecal route :
- Put a litter box for every two cats maximum and keep it clean, removing the stool at least once a day and disinfecting the tray periodically.
- Place feeders and drinkers well away from the sand.
- Avoid as much as possible the coexistence of more than 4-5 cats.
- If we brush the cats regularly, we will remove possible remains of feces from the hair, reducing the chances of contagion, especially in those that have a longer coat.
Can infectious peritonitis be prevented?
As it is a deadly disease and without possible treatment, preventing it is essential . For this we have a vaccine, although its effectiveness is not too high. It is essential to continue researching against this disease.
Other prevention measures would be the following:
- Avoid forming large colonies of cats.
- Reduce all those stress triggers.
- Maintain a vaccination and deworming calendar appropriate to the cat’s living conditions.