Feline Infectious Peritonitis, FIP, is caused by a mutation of the typically benign Feline Coronavirus (FCoV). It usually strikes kittens and young cats under 3 years of age, and older cats whose immune systems have been stressed or otherwise compromised.
FCoV is different from COVID-19 and will not spread to humans. Nearly every cat in the world is exposed to FCoV - especially those in shelters, catteries and multi-cat households.
Diarrhoea is a common symptom in cats that have contracted FCoV, and they will either pass out the virus without further complications, or carry it for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, about 5-10% of cats who contract FCoV have a weak immune system that allows the virus to mutate into FIP.
Our 1-year-old cat, Patches, began to exhibit symptoms of persistent diarrhoea and fever. We gave him probiotics and visited the vet numerous times. He was put on multiple courses of antibiotics, but did not show improvement. In fact, his diarrhoea worsened, becoming bloody and full of mucus.
He got really weak, refused to eat and appeared anaemic. His fever skyrocketed to 41.5°C and his blood work subsequently showed that his HCT (red blood cell count) was down to 12.9%.
Patches Blood works 24 July 2019
Other tests revealed that his kidneys were abnormally lumpy, and that over 5cm of his intestinal wall had become thicker than normal (which explained the diarrhoea, since he couldn’t process food well).
Patches eventually grew so weak that he was literally just skin, fur and bones. I could feel every bone on his spine as I ran my hands across his back.
We had to administer subcutaneous fluids to keep him hydrated and force-feed him just to keep him alive. We tried giving him vitamin B12 to increase his appetite but that didn’t work.
He remained horizontal for most of the day, whether sleeping or awake. He wouldn’t play or leave his room.
Our vet gave us a rather grim prognosis. Patches either had lymphoma cancer, or what is known as “dry FIP”.
We were advised that lymphoma could be treated with chemotherapy to prolong his life, but in the vet’s opinion, FIP was pretty much “a death sentence”.
Patches did have enlarged lymph nodes, but lymphoma couldn’t be confirmed unless a biopsy was done. Unfortunately, the risks associated with a biopsy were too high at this point. He was so severely anaemic and weak that general anaesthesia was not advisable.
This left us in a quandary - what to do now?
We sought advice from our friends and even from our cat’s breeder in Australia. She brought to our attention a recently-developed treatment for FIP called “GS441524”(GS) - so new that it’s not yet available at most vets.
My research revealed that this possible cure for FIP was invented by Dr Neils Pedersen, Principal Investigator for Feline Health Studies (University of California, Davis).
We contacted a supplier in China and told him of our dilemma. “If your cat does have FIP, you will see an improvement within days,” he assured us. We decided to give it a go and placed an order.
Over the next few days, while we were waiting for the drug to arrive by post, Patches’ condition deteriorated even further. His breathing became laboured and it looked like he wouldn’t even make it through the week.
Our vet recommended a blood transfusion at the nearest pet hospital, as he didn’t have the facilities to give 24-hour care, so we brought Patches to the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Hospital (VES).
Blood Transfusion at VES
Our friend, an avid cat-rescuer, brought 3 of her cats to the VES in the hope that one of them would be a match for blood donation. Fortunately, one of them was - she is such a life-saver and we cannot thank her enough!
The transfusion helped to bring up Patches’ HTC and he was able to walk around again (and even do a little happy hop!) when he got home. But the battle was not over yet.
When the GS drug arrived, we administered it to him and sure enough, just as the Chinese supplier had promised, his fever abated within 3 days and he was eating on his own again within a week.
As suggested by Dr Pedersen, the entire course of medication is administered over 84 days, followed by 84 days of remission. We stuck to this regimen faithfully, and even joined an FIP support group on Facebook where cats owners from all over the world offer emotional support to one another during this time of treatment.
After 84 days of treatment, we brought Patches back to our usual vet to run a blood test and see how he was doing. We were thrilled to learn that he had put on quite a bit of weight, his temperature was normal, his once-lumpy kidneys were back to normal and his lymph nodes had shrunk back to normal size too!
We didn’t want to stress him out with an ultrasound to check on his damaged intestines, but our vet told us they were unlikely to recover. We were recommended to feed him a bland diet of cooked chicken and no raw food.
It occurred to me that Patches may be the first cat in Singapore to be successfully treated for FIP, so a friend and I set up a private group on Facebook to support local cats owners who are dealing with this horrible disease.
How did Patches get infected with FIP in the first place?
We suspect that our other cat, Truffles, might have passed FCoV to him - she was tested positive for it when she was younger, but her FCoV did not mutate into FIP. Her immunity was strong and she wasn’t as easily stressed out as Patches.
Patches was initially bred to be a show cat, but we decided to retire him from the show life because of his condition. He’s also a rather skittish cat who is easily spooked, so perhaps showing him (or even just showering him) had caused him tremendous stress and affected his immune system.
Patches 13 June 2020
It’s important to note that FIP has a “wet” version and a “dry” version.
Unlike the dry version, which Patches had, the wet version is more deadly and will cause fluids to build up in the abdomen or chest. Cats will also experience ocular and neurological symptoms on top of that.
A cat with FIP can have
- Normal Wet / Dry FIP with only diarrhoea or fluid build-up
- Wet with Neuro or Ocular symptoms, or
- Dry with Neuro or Ocular symptoms, or
- In the worst cases, Wet/Dry with both Neuro AND Ocular symptoms
We are not a veterinary clinic and what we have shared is based on personal experience, accounts from others, and various online research. But if you suspect that your cat has FIP and your vet confirms the suspicion, you can drop us a message and we will invite you to join the Facebook support group.
FIP doesn’t have to be a death sentence for your cat.