Experts warn deadly cat virus could be catastrophic for UK

It is a result of the feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) virus that they caught on the island since January, according to Dinos Ayiomamitis, head of Cats PAWS Cyprus.

The main worry for British owners is the “long history” between Cyprus and ex-pats travelling to and from the island, with many people rehoming cats to the UK.

But what is FIP and why have so many cats died?

What is the disease that is killing cats?

FIP is a disease caused by feline coronavirus (FCoV).

FCoV is a common and contagious virus in cats that is spread through their faeces. Most cats will not show symptoms, and if they do it is limited to mild diarrhoea.

But in some cases, the virus mutates into FIP, which is almost always fatal.

Dr Jo Lewis, a feline veterinary surgeon, told Sky News: “Infection rates tend to be highest in cats living in close quarters and sharing toileting facilities”, like catteries and rescue centres, for example.

“It’s also important to note that the virus can be transmitted mechanically on grooming brushes, cat litter scoops and even on human feet and hands.

“That theory may explain why many indoor-only cats in Cyprus are being affected.”

Dr Nathalie Dowgray, head of the International Society of Feline Medicine, said the outbreak was “very concerning” for cats, cat owners and vets in Cyprus.

“For many, including stray cats, treatment will likely not be possible and sadly this will likely result in significant mortality.”

Whether a cat gets FIP or not depends on the “types of mutations, the load of virus and individual cat immune system”, Dr Dowgray said.

The risk to UK cats

An outbreak of this size is said to have not been seen anywhere before, so if it reaches the UK it could be quite serious and will weigh heavily on the minds of cat owners and vets.

Dr Lewis told Sky News: “There’s a genuine risk that if this gets into the UK it could have catastrophic consequences on our favourite pets.

“Anyone who has witnessed FIP heartache first-hand will understand the potential impact.”

The biggest risk to cats in Britain is importing the animals.

“We have a long history with Cyprus and plenty of British expats live and travel back and forth so the risk to UK cats is significant,” Dr Lewis added.

“We need to limit that risk by screening any cats leaving Cyprus and any nearby affected countries.”

She said cats leaving the island should be examined and blood tested for FCoV antibody levels, and any cat with symptoms shouldn’t travel.

What are the symptoms of FIP?

FIP is hard to diagnose but most cats with the virus will have a fever, appear lethargic and go off their food.

There are two types of the virus – wet FIP and dry FIP.

In cats with the former, fluid builds up in the abdomen or chest, causing swelling.

“We tend to see cats presenting with a large fluid-filled belly and breathing difficulties, who are increasingly lethargic and picky with their food,” Dr Lewis said.

Cats with dry FIP have less fluid build-up but may have a poor appetite, high temperature and vision problems.

FIP is more likely to develop in young cats between three months and two years old.


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