Dr. Hilary Quinn: New hope for cats stricken with deadly FIP | Four-legged friends and more

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

We like to fix things, so solving even small problems like an ear infection or stitching up a laceration can be rewarding, much like finishing a sink full of dirty dishes.

We also celebrate major victories, such as the successful stabilization of animals in critical condition, including those suffering from a diabetes attack or vehicle-related trauma.

There is also immense sadness in our field.

When my team saw a little pup grow from an untamed ball of sharp teeth to a kind, white-faced family caretaker, there’s not a dry eye in the hospital after the final bittersweet goodbye.

Among the most tragic farewells are those given to very young animals. A life cut short, for whatever reason, deeply hurts the owner and the veterinary caregivers.

A few years ago my own kitten, a beautiful silver tabby cat named Marty, fell ill and died shortly thereafter. He had contracted an ordinary feline enteric coronavirus, which is ubiquitous in shelters, shelters and catteries.

Most cats that contract this common virus recover uneventfully, showing only mild intestinal symptoms. However, in the unlucky bodies of a subset of kittens, this common virus mutates into a deadly variant.

The resulting disease 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 and 300 cats die of FIP each year. When I lost Marty, he joined the ranks of the millions of kittens who died from 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 new 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 in the 1980s and the discovery of a similar feline disease, FIV.

He hypothesized that a protease inhibitor, part of the drug cocktail given to humans living with HIV, might benefit 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, contacted Dr. Pedersen and his team and enrolled Miss Bean in Dr. Pedersen’s study.

Unfortunately, her case was too serious and she could not be saved. Not to be deterred, my client coordinated with a local rescue and quickly brought home another kitten who had been diagnosed with FIP.

His name was Smokey. He was quickly enrolled in the study and became one of the very first cats to be cured of FIP.

I was thrilled to be involved (in a very peripheral way) in helping Smokey through his treatment. It was a revolutionary time to be a veterinarian.

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

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

Like the brief period between the dark ages and the rebirth – we knew we could cure this disease, but we weren’t able to.

The GC drug had been purchased by a company and had been studied further, from which it has yet to emerge. The GS drug, made in unknown factories in China, started appearing on the internet in unmarked bottles and was secretly sent to cat owners.

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

Gradually, the groups grew in size, and Facebook group administrators were appointed to coordinate the transfer of these precious vials of clear, acidic, life-saving liquid.

It was an incredible and somewhat alarming effort at citizen science in the black market.

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

Veterinarians were not, and still are not, legally authorized to give dosage information or dispense the drug. There are still no FDA-approved versions of this drug.

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

Despite this, many thousands of cats have recovered from this terrible disease, thanks to the dedication and ingenuity of their owners.

The wonderful and supportive Facebook group FIP Warriors 5.0 is the leading source for information about GS and treatment in the United States.

Veterinarians are finally joining in too, helping with blood work monitoring and supportive care. I have now seen dozens of cats in my own general practice transform from sickly, discolored kittens into beautiful, active, healthy cats.

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

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

I’m so grateful to be a veterinarian during this incredible moment in cat health history, but what a mix of emotions it brought up here.

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

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

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

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