Last week, unfortunately, Diamond’s results came back. I say unfortunately because it really was very bad news and quite unexpected: a client came in with two of the most beautiful British Shorthair cats I have ever seen. One male, called Diamond, and one female called Jewel.

The British Shorthair is the pedigreed version of the traditional British domestic cat, with a distinctively chunky body, dense coat and broad face. Jewel is what is known as a ‘seal point’ (full body colour with dark brown legs, ears and tail), while Diamond is a traditional British blue colour of the breed.

Diamond and Jewel had just arrived in Malta a week ago and were brought to the clinic for their first check-ups. After having examined and marvelled at these cats, we decided that a full blood check-up should be done and that we should also include tests for Felv (feline leukaemia) , FIV ( feline immunodeficiency virus ), FcoV ( feline corona virus) and PKD (polycystic kidney disease ).

What these diseases have in common is that they are diseases of cats that can lay dormant, without any immediate symptoms, for many years to then cause severe problems at a later date. Felv, FIV and FCoV are viral diseases of cats, while PKD is a genetic disease that causes kidney problems.

Cats certainly have their full share of particular and distinct problems. Diamond’s story is a reminder that before purchasing an expensive pedigree cat, it may be a good idea to get veterinary advice on which blood tests and certificates to request to avoid terrible disappointment and heartache.

Diamond proved positive to FCoV. This disease is not a simple one. It is a common virus that occurs in cats. In certain situations this virus multiplies and mutates and causes a devastating cat disease called feline peritonitis or FIP. Additionally, there are different types of FIP in the cat and this depends on the particular cat’s immune reaction to the virus.The blood test for coronavirus cannot differentiate between the benign corona virus and FIP-producing corona virus, yet additional blood parameters would differentiate this. Diamond was not only positive to corona virus but all the other blood parameters proved suggestive of FIP.

No matter which form of disease feline peritonitis takes, symptoms tend to become progressively worse over time and deteriorate up to a point where euthanasia becomes necessary

Feline peritonitis is a disease of great concern when there are a high number and concentration of cats. Symptoms can be very vague and may go on for weeks, if not months. These can include an oscillating fever with loss of appetite and lethargy. Also there is a form called ‘wet FIP’, where fluid accumulates in the abdominal cavity or ‘peritoneum’, which is where the name feline peritonitis comes from. Effectively this virus causes damage and inflammation of blood vessels which can occur anywhere in the body and which explains the wide variety of symptoms possible.

No matter which form of disease feline peritonitis takes, symptoms tend to become progressively worse over time and deteriorate up to a point where euthanasia becomes necessary. The occurrence of feline peritonitis is most common in cats kept in colonies, especially in breeding households, as this is the exact environment where the corona virus is most easily spread.

FIP can occur at any age, yet typically it is most often seen in young cats, less than two years of age, and most of these in the four- to 10-month period. This disease makes it so much harder from an emotional point of view, soon after all the initial joy and pleasure of owning a beautiful cat.

Unfortunately, there is no commercially effective vaccine for this disease. Prevention is better done at a cattery or at the cat breeding period. Blanket testing for corona virus is not the start and end of it all, because, as we have seen here, the presence of corona virus alone does not automatically translate into feline peritonitis. Good hygiene as well as keeping cats in small stable groups living together are the hallmark for the proliferation of this disease. Clean litter boxes and isolation of nursing queens and her young is also extremely important. The breeding of queens, which have repeatedly produced good healthy kittens, is also paramount.

Unfortunately for Diamond, things do not look good. At the moment there are no obvious signs of FIP, yet his owner certainly needs to be informed and decisions have to be made. Everything shall be done to sustain Diamond’s health and immune system to possibly prevent what may be the inevitable. Sadly, Diamond and Jewel may have to be separated to safeguard Jewel’s health, and the cat breeder where Diamond came from will have to be informed for provisions to be made to control FIP.

Dr Martin Debattista is a veterinary surgeon.

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