by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.
Feline Infectious Peritonitis - Part I
Cory never reached his first birthday. Though his life was tragically short, he brought so many smiles, such joy and so much love to the elderly lady he lived with. She remembers him with great fondness. She still can hardly believe how quickly it all happened.
It really was a case of love at first sight. Cory was a Cornish Rex and some people who first see one of his breed may not experience quite the same emotion. Cornish Rex cats are usually quite slim, on the small side with an arched body, long legs and an oval-shaped head. They have quite an aristocratic profile - a tapered muzzle, high forehead and a rather aquiline nose. But their most distinguishing characteristic is their hair coat. The short velvety hairs lie close to the skin in neatly rippling waves. It does make them look a bit different and not everyone who first sees one, wants to hold a Cornish Rex.
Cory also possessed another feature characteristic to his breed. He was a most affectionate cuddler. When he left his mother and his two littermates at the cattery where he was born and moved to his new home, he could already snuggle most skillfully. I can still remember his docile, gentle manner and willingness to sit on my lap after his nine week examination was completed on his first visit.
The unexpected, rapid, unrelenting course of his illness, even though I have seen it before, seems so shocking, so sad and unfair. At his first checkup, he was just fine. A few weeks later, back for his next vaccine, things were still going well. Still shy and loveable, yet growing and developing just as a kitten should. However, over the next four months, after the usual insidious onset of the disease that had stricken Cory, we witnessed its inevitable outcome.
Gradually Cory lost his appetite. He appeared stunted and was failing to thrive. He was less active and depressed. His hair took on a rough, unkempt appearance. Slowly, though not growing normally, his abdomen seemed to increase in size. This gave him a
"potbellied" appearance. He developed a persistent fluctuating fever that was not antibiotic responsive.
With a patient showing signs and symptoms like Cory, veterinarians are usually able to make a clinical diagnosis, relatively easily. However, it is very difficult to confirm that diagnosis. In fact, it is usually not possible to do so in a living animal. There are a variety of laboratory tests that are done in an attempt to gather further evidence of the suspected cause and to rule out other possible diseases. Sadly, though, there is very little doubt, a patient with this presentation is suffering from feline infectious peritonitis.
While diagnostic tests are being done, every effort is made to stabilize and help the patient as much as possible. For the most part, these treatments are able to be done with the patient at home with a caring, supportive owner, rather than in the animal hospital. Efforts to find some diet that will enhance the cat's appetite and encourage it to eat, are crucial. The bad news is that no treatment has been shown to be routinely effective in treating cats with feline infectious peritonitis. The prognosis is grave once typical signs of this disease occur because mortality is nearly 100 %. The disease can run a clinical course of a few days to several months.
This was to be Cory's fate. He was just under eight months of age when his loving owner chose to have him euthanized, sparing him further decline and suffering. She was left heartbroken, grieving, and wondering what was this disease that had so cruelly taken Cory. What causes it? Where does it come from? Could she have done anything to prevent it? These are some of the questions I will try to answer in my next column.