FIP can be a challenging disease to diagnose, in part based on the non-specific clinical signs and in part due to the lack of a simple diagnostic test.
Your Vet may become suspicious of FIP if a pet shows elevated white blood cells, increase globulin concentrations (protein in the blood), elevated liver enzymes and jaundice (a yellow discolouration to the skin).
If there is fluid present within the abdomen, then a sample of this can be taken and assessed for protein levels. Other tests that may be helpful include analysis of the blood proteins for the presence of specific markers. Unfortunately, these tests cannot distinguish between the different types of coronavirus (FIP causing and non-mutated FCoV), therefore, they can be used in combination with clinical signs to increase suspicion, however they cannot give a definitive answer.
The best test to confirm diagnosis is to collect a tissue sample called a biopsy from affected tissues to isolate the virus, however, many cats are too sick to undergo surgery for this purpose.
FIP is a challenging disease to treat and unfortunately, in many cases, incurable and rapidly fatal. Supportive care such as intravenous fluids and pain relief, can relieve signs for a short time and drugs such as interferon (a drug which stimulated the immune system) has been trailed with mixed results.
Recent research has shown some promise regarding the use of newer anti-viral drugs; however, further research is needed before these can be trialled for licencing in practice.
In some countries, a commercially available vaccine is available to protect against FCoV. The main indication for use of this vaccine would be in high risk cats (breeding households or colonies), however cannot be given in cats under 16 weeks of age, by which point the cats would have most likely already have been exposed to FCoV.
The risk of FIP can be minimised by obtaining your pet from a source with relatively few cats. Eradication of FCoV in breeding colonies can be extremely difficult and a more practical approach would be to use measures to prevent mutation into FIP.
Good practice to minimise risk would include: avoiding large groups of cats or having multiple litters in one go, keeping small isolated groups separate, having numerous, easy to clean litter trays Keep litter boxes away from food or water bowls, avoiding stress and maintaining good hygiene.