Our sweet, brand-spanking new Savannah kitten, Luna was due for her second feline distemper combination vaccine and a vet follow-up examination shortly after her arrival. On April 13th, 2017, she received that vaccine, which is the routine protocol for most cats. After receiving the vaccine, Luna immediately started refusing to eat, was sleeping constantly, and felt very hot to the touch. My husband and I had already thought that she looked a bit distended around her midline abdomen and I made mention of this to the vet during this visit.
The only variance noted during her vet exam was a grade 3 heart murmur which was thought to be benign, and she was deemed healthy. The plan was to reassess the heart murmur in a few months and consider a referral to a veterinary cardiologist if it did not resolve. The distention was thought to be a “normal kitten belly” according to the vet.
The abdominal distention was worsening, so on April 21st, we took Luna to the veterinary emergency clinic. I had already researched the causes of abdominal distention in kittens and had read about FIP, so this was already in the back of my mind; however, it’s not relatively common, especially with the Savannah cat breed, so I wasn’t terribly worried and thought that at worst, it could be a parasite.
The vet aspirated some of the fluid from her abdomen during the examination and brought it with her to the exam room in a specimen tube to show it to us. She was quite certain that given the assessment of the fluid, her lack of appetite, lethargy, and fever of 105 degrees, that Luna had the effusive form of feline infectious peritonitis (FIP). She told us about the grim prognosis and that we had a few days to maybe two weeks with her at best. She said that we could come back in a few days for a consult with an internist to discuss any life-prolonging options and get a second opinion or to euthanize her if her condition further deteriorated over the weekend.
On April 24th, we opted for the specialist and second opinion. Luna had a cardiac echocardiogram, x-ray, and further blood tests, which served to confirm the diagnosis of FIP. I have to say that this was the longest and most grueling three days of our lives as we tried to come to terms with the idea of losing our new baby, while also scrambling and researching to see what we could do, if anything, to save her. FIP is 100% fatal, with no treatment or cure. How could this be happening? We had waited so long to get her (even having had a terrible prior experience with another breeder three months prior when trying to purchase a Savannah kitten). Now we were faced with losing Luna.
There simply has to be a way to save her. As a nurse in a large teaching hospital, I am familiar with clinical trials. I thought to myself, “surely there is something out there in the works for FIP.” I called and emailed every major veterinary college I could find online during this very long and grueling weekend of waiting to see the specialist.
Luna is stable on the Interferon and Prednisone for now. Her abdomen is still quite fluid retained, she sleeps alot, but she is still eating and occasionally nosing around “wanting” to get into things and play, she just has very little energy.
I’ve been researching my butt off (because I do not give up that easily. I found a trial at the University of California, Davis that has had some bit of success with a trial in the past. I left them a message on Sunday and I was shocked to get a call back Monday morning with news that they are pushing to get approval for a similar drug that is just as promising as the one that is now completed.
The researchers reviewed Luna’s lab work, radiology, and vet summaries and deemed her to be a perfect candidate. The best success is in cats under 18 weeks. She turned 15 weeks on Monday. The catch is that if they get this pushed through their “powers that be” and approved, we need to get to Sacramento and admit her to their clinic for 5-10 days of treatment and studies. It’s truly the best shot she has as she WILL die, even on the medication pair she is on and we have limited time because once her brain if affected, she cannot enter the trial.
FIP has no current treatment or cure. However, their trials have had a few successes in reversing the disease and giving the cat remission. The trial is at NO cost to us and IF she does well there, she will come home and we will continue to give her the drug at home until her labs return to normal and she is considered in the clear. A big IF. That said, even if she is not one of the success stories, at least her short life will have had a purpose and maybe put researchers a step closer to finding a treatment/cure for FIP.