Feline heart disease (HCM) and a fatal illness called feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) are two of the most devastating diseases in cats.
Either diagnosis can spiral a cat owner into a serious funk, as the outcome may not be good. Both were featured topics at the 36th Annual Winn Feline Foundation Symposium “HCM and FIP: Glimmers of Hope,” June 26, at the Sheraton New Orleans.
The Winn Feline Foundation is a nonprofit that raises money to fund cat health studies (www.winnfelinehealth.org).
The symposium’s two featured speakers, Dr. Beth Licitra, of Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, and veterinary cardiologist Dr. Philip Fox, of the Animal Medical Center in New York City, are among experts who answered these questions.
Q: What’s the deal with vaccine for FIP (feline infectious peritonitis)? I’ve read on the FIP forum (online) that the vaccine is not a good idea. I have two corona virus-positive cats. Recently, I adopted a 9-week-old kitten. I’ve kept the kitten isolated until he can be tested for the corona virus. My veterinarian insists on vaccinating the kitten even if he tests negative for coronavirus. What do you think about this? – N.P., Cyberspace
A: Perhaps your concern stems from a previous experience of having a kitten with feline infectious peritonitis. Dr. Beth Licitra, a biomedical researcher in the laboratory of Dr. Gary Whittaker at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, points out that despite its name, FIP is not actually infectious, as it was thought to be when the disease was first identified.
Licitra explains that many cats (and other mammal species, including people) can contract the common corona virus. In cats, some individuals with this virus have no symptoms; others have a slightly upset tummy or just seem to feel badly for a few days. Often, by the time a veterinarian is called, the cat seems better.
For reasons which Licitra, Whittaker and others are now beginning to understand, in some cats the benign corona virus mutates into the fatal FIP virus.
“It’s true cats can’t develop FIP without the initial presence of the corona virus – which is very contagious – but FIP itself is not contagious,” Licitra notes.
Also, while there are tests for the corona virus, Licitra isn’t sure of the relevancy of that, since the virus may shed intermittently, and besides, many cats test positive for the benign feline corona virus and never develop FIP.
As for the FIP vaccine, it’s rarely used, and according to the American Association of Feline Practitioners Vaccine Guidelines, falls into the category of generally not recommended.
“This is not because the vaccine is dangerous,” says Licitra, “It just may not be effective.”
Q: A friend purchased two Devon Rex kittens from a breeder. As a former veterinary technician, and knowing the breed, I noted that his kittens couldn’t be pedigreed Devon Rex cats based on their appearance. Both kittens died early, one from heart disease. I suspect these cats were inbred, obviously the work of a horrible breeder. Could this be why one kitten had HCM (feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy)? – S.R., Cyberspace
A: Veterinary cardiologist Dr. Philip Fox, of the Animal Medical Center in New York City, points out that by definition responsible breeders of horses, dogs and cats in-breed their animals all the time.
“I’m not sure what you mean by ‘in-breeding,’ ” he says. “I’m guessing you mean sloppy or irresponsible breeding. And without further information, it’s impossible to make a judgment or place blame.”
Fox notes that HCM, the most common heart disease in cats, does have a breed predisposition in American Shorthair, Ragdoll, Maine Coon, Persian and Sphynx, and perhaps other breeds. Also, gene defects that predispose some cats to HCM appear to run in some families (of any breed or mix).