I first met Lola on the kitten plan. She was a Norwegian Forest cat and had come from a cattery in Wisconsin. This was my first experience with a Norwegian Forest cat. Known as the Skogkatt in its native Norway, they are large, semi-long-haired cats with a rugged appearance. They are said to enjoy human and other pet company on their own terms. Lola was striking.

We started out her kitten plan with standard tests. Feline leukemia (FeLV) and feline aids (FIV) can be so devastating that we always test first. Lola was negative for both and started on her vaccinations and deworming schedule. Along the way, we taught some basic cat care.

Lola seemed to enjoy her visits to Guardian Animal. She would stretch out and easily touch the top of the table from the floor. She didn’t mind her vaccinations and would deign to be petted afterward.

Then Lola’s dad said that his daughter’s cat, a littermate to Lola, had died. The vet said that it was FIP. Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) is a viral disease. It is a form of coronavirus. Some strains of feline coronavirus do not cause disease and are the feline enteric coronavirus strains. Even during the initial infection stage, cats generally do not show any symptoms. There is an immune response that develops antiviral antibodies. Only a small portion of infected cats progress to clinical FIP. This is what we know as feline infectious peritonitis virus or FIP.

These antibodies are supposed to protect the cat, but instead help to transport the virus throughout the cat’s body. There is an intense inflammatory reaction around the tissue vessels which have the infected cells. This is often in the abdomen, kidney, or brain. The interaction between the immune system and the virus is the cause of the disease. Without the overreaction of the immune system, clinical FIP would not occur. The disease is progressive and almost always fatal. According to Cornell Feline Health Center, clinical FIP’s immune-mediated disease is unlike any other viral disease of animals or humans.

But Lola is active, eating some and looking good. She has been fully vaccinated and even vaccinated for FIP. Part of this is that cats mask any signs of disease. In the wild, there is no advantage to a cat looking sick. There are many disadvantages including being eaten. Therefore, cats will spend energy looking well until they are in a crisis state. Over several weeks, they get sicker and sicker. Even then the signs are very nonspecific: loss of appetite; weight loss; depression; rough hair coat; and fever.

There are two major forms of FIP, the wet or effusive form, and a noneffusive, or dry form. The dry form exhibits the signs slower than the wet form. Symptoms generally include chronic weight loss, depression, anemia, and a persistent fever that does not respond to antibiotic therapy.

The wet form has an accumulation of fluid in the abdomen and/or space around the lungs in the chest. Early on, it looks like the dry form, but then it progresses rapidly. The pot-bellied appearance is due to fluid accumulation. The excessive fluid can make it difficult to breathe normally. Unfortunately, FIP can be difficult to diagnose not only because each cat can have different signs, but all of the signs are similar to those of many other diseases.

Lola’s CBC or complete blood count was normal. Her white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets showed nothing. No anemia. No signs of infection. She didn’t have a fever. Her chemistry was basically normal also, the only elevation was a slight increase in her total protein and globulins. I sent an FIP titer to a reference lab. When it came back strongly positive, it was unclear if it was the vaccine or the disease making the titer high. The specialist at the lab felt that it was the vaccine, but the levels seemed way to high to me.

I called the specialist in Lexington. She recommended I repeat a protein test on Lola. It was even higher than it had been before. With heavy heart I called Lola’s dad.

Although we could have gotten a few more weeks, I could not save her. He requested euthanasia. Lola got the benefit of some barbiturates and went to sleep. Forever. At the necropsy, there were granulomas throughout the abdominal cavity. The lungs were adhered to the heart with long stands of fibrin. I felt more comfortable with the euthanasia when the necropsy report said “In sections of lung, focal areas of pyogranulomatous inflammation are present in pulmonary parenchyma immediately subjacent to the visceral pleura. Alveolar spaces are often flooded with homogeneous, eosinophilic proteinaceous, edema fluid. Sections of kidney exhibit multifocal areas of pyogranulomatous inflammation present in the tissue, centered upon the capsule and subcapsular parenchyma.“

There was multifocal pyogranulomatous pneumonitis and nephritis, lung and kidney. “The nature and composition of the inflammatory infiltrate is consistent with feline infectious peritonitis.” In short, Lola died of the dry form of FIP. Her sister died of the wet form of FIP.

Obviously, the kittens got FIP from the cattery where they were born. Obviously, this is a bad situation. But unlike feline leukemia, there is not a good test for FIP. The breeder would find it almost impossible to clean up FIP from her cats without starting over. That would be hard both financially and emotionally. Unfortunately, the pain that Lola’s father went through does not have a price tag. And cleaning up the cattery from fatal infectious diseases is the right thing to do.

Note: Too late for Lola, but there is now a potential treatment for FIP out of China. It is very expensive and doesn’t always work, but it
is a possibility.