Dr. Hilary Quinn: New Hope for Cats Stricken with Deadly FIP | Four-Legged Friends and More

Being a veterinarian, or a member of a veterinary staff, can be a mixed bag of emotions. There are immense joys in my daily working life, ranging from the mundane to the profound.

We like to fix things, so solving even small problems such as an ear infection or stitching up a laceration can be rewarding, not unlike finishing a sink-full of dirty dishes.

We also celebrate the big wins — such as successfully stabilizing animals in critical condition, including those suffering a diabetic crisis or vehicular trauma.

There is also tremendous sadness in our field.

When my team has watched a tiny pup grow from an untamed ball of pointy teeth to a gentle, white-faced guardian of the family, there is not a dry eye in the hospital after the bittersweet final goodbye.

Among the most tragic goodbyes are those we bid to very young animals. A life cut short, for any reason, cuts deep in the heart of both the owner and the veterinary caregivers.

A few years ago, my own kitten, a beautiful silver tabby named Marty, fell ill and died shortly thereafter. He had contracted a run-of-the-mill feline enteric coronavirus, which is ubiquitous in shelters, rescues, and catteries.

Most cats who acquire this common virus will recover unventfully, showing only mild intestinal symptoms. However, within the unlucky bodies of a subset of kittens, this common virus mutates into a deadly variant.

The disease that it leads to is called Feline Infectious Peritonitis, or FIP. It causes a massive cascade of inflammation, and eventually organ failure and death.

It is estimated that between 1 in 100 to 300 cats dies of FIP each year. When I lost Marty, he joined the ranks of millions of kittens who died of a disease for which there was no effective vaccine, and no known cure.

But in 2016, everything changed. A UC Davis veterinarian named Niels Pedersen and his team had completed a trial of two novel antiviral drugs, named GC-376 and GS-441524.

Dr Pedersen, DVM, PhD, had already spent five decades of his career researching feline and human viruses. He was involved in HIV/AIDS research during the 1980s, and in the discovery of the similar feline disease FIV.

He theorized that a protease-inhibitor, part of the drug cocktail administered to humans with HIV, may be of benefit to cats with naturally-occurring FIP. He was right.

Earlier that year, a client of mine adopted a beautiful little kitten, Miss Bean, who developed a particularly severe case of FIP. This client, a devoted cat lover, reached out to Dr. Pedersen and his team, and enrolled Miss Bean in Dr. Pedersen’s study.

Unfortunately, her case was too severe and she couldn’t be saved. Not to be deterred, my client coordinated with a local rescue, and soon brought home another kitten who had been diagnosed with FIP.

His name was Smokey. He was quickly enrolled in the study, and went on to become one of the very first cats to ever be cured of FIP.

I was excited to be (very peripherally) involved in helping Smokey throughout his treatment course. This was a ground-breaking time to be a veterinarian.

No longer would I have to hug and shed tears with owners of dying kittens. This disease would soon be relegated to the mundane, the dirty-dish variety!

Unfortunately it wasn’t that easy. For some time after the UC Davis study was completed, the FIP antivirals GC and GS were unavailable to owners or veterinarians.

Like the brief period the time between the dark ages and the renaissance — we had the knowledge that we could cure this disease but no ability to do so.

The drug GC had been bought by a company and went into further study, from which it has not yet emerged. The drug GS, manufactured in unknown factories in China, started popping up on the internet in unmarked vials, and was mailed among cat owners in secret.

Facebook groups were formed by distressed owners, those who had lost cats and those about to lose them.

Gradually, the groups gained momentum, and Facebook group administrators were appointed who could coordinate transfer of these precious vials of transparent, acidic, life-saving liquid.

It was an incredible, and somewhat alarming, black-market, citizen-science effort.

Do you remember the Matthew McConaughey movie “Dallas Buyers Club”? Yep, it was like that.

Veterinarians were not, and still are not, legally allowed to give dosing information or to dispense the medication. There are still no FDA approved versions of this medication.

To procure the medication, you will need a Facebook account, a thousand dollars (more or less) to cover the cost, and a steady hand to inject the medication into the subcutaneous space of your cat’s skin for 84 days straight.

Despite this, many thousands of cats have recovered from this awful disease, thanks to the devotion and resourcefulness of their owners.

The wonderful and supportive Facebook group FIP Warriors 5.0 is the primary source of GS and treatment information in the USA.

Veterinarians are finally getting on board too, helping with bloodwork monitoring and supportive care. I have now seen dozens of cats in my own general practice transformed from sickly, fading kittens into beautiful, healthy, active cats.

Marty, Miss Bean, and untold number of cats before them bravely paved the way for our understanding of this complex disease.

Humans, such as Dr Pedersen, his UC Davis team, and my patient Smokey’s owner, Peter Cohen, who started the organization Zen By Cat and the original FIP Warriors, continue to lead the charge to make FIP a disease of the past.

I am so thankful to be a vet during this incredible moment in the history of cat health, but what a mixed bag of emotions it has been getting here.

For more information about FIP/research, please visit Dr. Pedersen’s website SockFIP.org, or Peter Cohen’s foundation ZenByCat.org.

If you think your cat may have FIP, please join the Facebook group FIP Warriors 5.0.

Dr. Hilary Quinn is a small animal veterinarian in Santa Barbara. She owns and operates Wilder Animal Hospital, and shares her own home with three humans (her husband and two kids) as well as two rowdy dogs, a very calm kitty, two fish, and six chickens. Contact her at [email protected]


Leave a Comment