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Feline Leukemia, Feline Infectious Peritonitis
Harry passed away on 31 December 1999 from the effects of end-stage Feline Infectious Peritonitis. FIP is a viral disease about which there is little that is known with certainty. It does not seem to be highly contagious, but there is no known cure for it. It causes the cat's immune system to overreact and slowly destroy the infected body structures (despite the name, it can affect many parts of the body). Harry's diabetes may have been originally caused by FIP.
Some researchers believe the virus that causes FIP is common, but that most cats do not get the disease when exposed (this view is not unanimous, though). It is known that cats with Feline Leukemia are more likely to get FIP. The virus is probably most commonly spread through mutual grooming, shared litter boxes, and shared food. FIP can also possibly be spread by airborne contact when an infected cat sneezes. Fighting, of course, is also a common route for infection by this and many other Feline diseases.
There are vaccines available for both FIP and Feline Leukemia. The FIP vaccine is not considered reliable by most veterinarians and is not often recommended. The Feline Leukemia vaccine is only effective about sixty percent of the time, which explains how Harry caught the disease despite the fact that he was vaccinated against Feline Leukemia throughout his life. He was also an indoor cat, and didn't often go outside, almost never without supervision. Unfortunately, on one of his rare unsupervised outdoor adventures in June of 1997, he was attacked by the neighborhood Tom who didn't care that Harry was neutered and no threat to his territory. This is the only opportunity that we know of for Harry to have caught Feline Leukemia, and it underscores the importance of not depending too heavily on the vaccine as protection for your cat. Although it is very important to vaccinate your cat against Feline Leukemia, keeping your cat indoors, and supervising outdoor activity, is important (but not foolproof) protection against this and many other diseases.
Of course, life is full of risks for both humans and cats, and Harry's experience shows that no matter what precautions you take, there will still be risks. Some cats are miserable if they can't go outside once in a while, while others are content to watch the world from the safety of a window. You must ultimately decide how to balance your cat's need for adventure with the peace of mind you gain by keeping him or her indoors, away from the dangers of the "real" world. No matter what you do, accept that it may, in the end, not be enough, and don't feel like a failure when fate decides to hand you an outcome that was against the odds.