This condition is caused by the coronavirus, and because this particular
virus has the capacity to mutate it is not easy to control or identify
with certainty once the infection has taken hold. There are other
coronaviruses which cause illness in cats but which do not affect the
peritoneum, and treatment is likely to be affected by what diagnostic
signs and symptoms are available and recognizable. Additionally because
it is a virus it is not susceptible to antibiotic treatment, and
therefore the management therapy available is compromised by the lack of
The virus particularly affects young cats and the more mature,
and will cause a generalized malaise and an inflammation of the
peritoneum which is the 'bag' of membranous tissue which encloses the
intestines and internal organs. It is not overly contagious, as studies
of feral colonies have shown that only a small percentage of the ferals
will fall ill, although it does appear to be prevalent in overcrowded
conditions or in feral colonies where disease can be rife and immunity
low. Interestingly it appears that those with low immune response are
likely to recover from it rather than those whose immune systems are
strong. Experts believe that it is the aggressive immune response which
leads to a cat's rapidly failing health and death and not the virus
Please stay tuned for the next installment.....
The signs and symptoms that a vet would look for would be a high fever, a complete disinterest in his surroundings and lethargy, and weight loss, but these are common to many feline diseases and diagnostic tests will be needed to identify the exact organism causing the illness..
The disease can manifest itself in two ways - as effusive peritonitis, in which a thick straw-yellow exudate is produced and will distend the abdomen, giving the cat a rounded or pot bellied appearance. The cat may also develop pleurisy, or fluid around the lungs. The other form is dry in which all the signs of symptoms occur but there is no exudate.
The cat will not show any signs of illness until about six weeks after primary infection and once it has taken hold he may suffer secondary infections such as conjunctivitis, liver and kidney problems and an overall collapse in general body function. Treatment consists of administering strong cytotoxic drugs and these will give a marked improvement apart from the fact that these drugs will suppress the immune system and depress the bone marrow. He will also need intravenous fluids and monitored feeding, together with antibiotic cover to treat secondary infections. Some vets favour the administration of aspirin in low doses as an anti-inflammatory and to reduce the possibility of blood clots due to the cytotoxic drugs being administered.
Prognosis is good for cats who exhibit healthy signs of recovery,
who have not been badly affected by damage to internal organs and who
are still eating and drinking satisfactorily. Sadly, cats that are very
ill are unlikely to survive by more than a few months Prevention is not
easy, but management of hygiene and good general vaccination cover is
thought to help. There is a vaccine available for the coronavirus, but
it is thought by many vets that it is not necessary unless your cat
spends a lot of time outside and is in contact with feral colonies.