We learned on April 21st, 2017 that our new Savannah kitten Luna, whom we had only had for 5 weeks (age the age of 14.5 weeks), had the wet/effusive form of “Feline Infectious Peritonitis” (FIP). We noticed that she was very lethargic immediately after receiving the FVRCP vaccine on April 13th. She was not eating, was sleeping constantly, and felt very warm to the touch. My husband and I had already thought that she looked a bit distended around the middle, which I mentioned to the vet when I went in for her vaccine. A grade 3 heart murmur was detected, but otherwise, no concerns. The plan was to reassess in a few months and consider a referral to a cardiologist for further evaluation if the murmur did not resolve. The distention was felt to be just a typical kitten belly.
My husband and I felt that the distention was worsening, so on April 21st, so we took her to our local veterinary E.R. I had already researched the possible causes of abdominal distention in kittens and had read about FIP. I had that in the back of my mind, but refused to believe this was anything more than a treatable parasite.
The visit went quickly and while in the evaluation area, the vet removed some of the fluid from her abdomen. She brought it with her to the exam room in a specimen tube and showed it to us. She was very certain that Luna had FIP. She told us about the grim prognosis and that we likely only had a few weeks with her. We were numb and didn’t know what to say or do at that point. She said that we could come back on the 24th and consult with their internist to discuss potential life-prolonging options and get a second opinion. We did do that, and that visit resulted in a cardiac echocardiogram, x-ray, and further blood tests, which confirmed the diagnosis of FIP. The internist suggested that we start Luna on Prednisone to help her appetite and Feline Omega Interferon, which studies had shown to prolong the lives of FIP cats for a few weeks to a few months.
FIP is 100% fatal, with no treatment or cure. How could this be happening to our new, sweet kitten? We had waited so long to get her and now we were faced with losing her. Luna is an awesome cat in every way. She is friendly, funny, quirky, and loving and exceeded our expectations. There simply had to be a way to save her.
As a nurse, I am familiar with research and clinical trials, so I figured there had to be something out there that might be able to help Luna, or at the very least, buy us some time. I researched online for hours and ultimately started calling universities that had large veterinary programs, leaving voice messages and sending emails to all of them. That is what that led me to UC Davis Veterinary College. I read that they were making progress with a trial drug for FIP and that trial had just finished in 2016; a few months earlier.
Much to my surprise, I received a call back from UCD on the 23rd with the news of a possible new drug trial that was in the works. We discussed the details of Luna’s diagnosis and testing and then I received another call on the 24th to further discuss her symptoms, provide her medical records and lab work, and the possibility of flying with Luna out to Sacramento (the same day that she saw the internist). Luna would be first privately owned, naturally acquired FIP cat to start this new drug trial and she was at the perfect age too. The timing of this still gives me chills.
We needed to get her to Sacramento quickly so that she could be admitted to their clinic for 5-10 days of drug trial and monitoring. Time was limited, as she was declining fast and with a fever up to 105 degrees. Dr. Pedersen instructed us to stop the current medications, so she had only received one dose of the steroids and Interferon. We made it Sacramento on April 28th; just seven days after her diagnosis. Dr. Niels Pedersen, (distinguished researcher and professor who has worked for a cure for FIP since the 1960’s), explained the protocol in detail to us, especially how the drug works to stop the viral replication. We then went to the room where Luna would stay for the next 5-10 days. She received an exam and her first injection.
Luna responded extremely fast to the drug, even seeing improvement in her fever and behavior after just one injection. Luna responded so well that we were able to come home on day number six. It was like bringing home a healthy, new kitten…a kitten free from fever, abdominal distention, eating well, and playful!
We continued to administer the anti-viral drug (called EVO984–I can now say it!) daily at home for a total time of 12 weeks, while having her blood work repeated at specific intervals by our local vet, with results reported to Dr. Pedersen.
Luna’s last injection was July 23rd, 2017. She is thriving and showing no signs of disease and her lab work remains perfectly normal. She is growing in weight and stature and is playing aggressively. She goes with us on our backpacking adventures and has hiked up to 13 miles over a 2-day venture, walking on her harness and leash or riding on top of our backpack. She loves being outside with us and is always an attention-grabber when out on the trails.
This seemingly positive outcome gives hope, not just for Luna, but for the future of cats diagnosed with the wet form of FIP. We could still theoretically lose Luna if the drug fails to eradicate her FIP, but at least her life serves a very important purpose. I can only imagine what this could mean the future of other FIP diagnosed cats; especially if she ends up actually cured (and it’s looking that way)!
To date (October 2017), Luna has been FIP free for 6 months now; with no signs of disease and living a normal, healthy life! Visitors can follow my past and future posts at this link for updates about Luna’s UC Davis trial experience and her current status: http://debraroberts.net/category/luna/
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