Overview: Feline coronavirus infection is ubiquitous in domestic cats, and is particularly common where conditions are crowded. While most FCoV-infected cats are healthy or display only a mild enteritis, some go on to develop feline infectious peritonitis, a disease that is especially common in young cats and multi-cat environments. Up to 12% of FCoV-infected cats may succumb to FIP, with stress predisposing to the development of disease.
Disease signs: The 'wet' or effusive form, characterised by polyserositis (abdominal and/or thoracic effusion) and vasculitis, and the 'dry' or non-effusive form (pyogranulomatous lesions in organs) reflect clinical extremes of a continuum. The clinical picture of FIP is highly variable, depending on the distribution of the vasculitis and pyogranulomatous lesions. Fever refractory to antibiotics, lethargy, anorexia and weight loss are common non-specific signs. Ascites is the most obvious manifestation of the effusive form.
Diagnosis: The aetiological diagnosis of FIP ante-mortem may be difficult, if not impossible. The background of the cat, its history, the clinical signs, laboratory changes, antibody titres and effusion analysis should all be used to help in decision-making about further diagnostic procedures. At the time of writing, there is no non-invasive confirmatory test available for cats without effusion.
Disease management: In most cases FIP is fatal. Supportive treatment is aimed at suppressing the inflammatory and detrimental immune response. However, there are no controlled studies to prove any beneficial effect of corticosteroids.
Vaccination recommendations: At present, only one (intranasal) FIP vaccine is available, which is considered as being non-core. Kittens may profit from vaccination when they have not been exposed to FCoV (eg, in an early-weaning programme), particularly if they enter a FCoV-endemic environment.