Taz’s Battle and Win Over FIP

Taz was diagnosed FIP+ (with the wet type) in November of 1996 when Taz was only 6 months of age. His symptoms of disease came on very suddenly. One day I noticed that he had a small limp and was slightly lethargic. The next morning I caught him laying in a corner of stuffed animals. He was just lying there sprawled out in an uncomfortable position as if he was walking near the animals, suddenly couldn’t move any more, and went limp where he was standing (falling on the stuffed animals). That morning I also found a little pooping incident in the living room. At that point I made an appointment at our local veterinarian. The first appointment available was for the next afternoon, I took it. During the next 24 hours Taz got progressively worse. By the time my husband and I took him to the vet he couldn’t go to the bathroom on his own (he urinated in my arms after letting out a small meow right before going to the vet’s office), he wasn’t eating, and he could barely walk without stumbling and falling.

When we went to see the vet, who at first glance didn’t have any indications or thoughts of what could be wrong, he asked that we leave Taz overnight for some tests and said that he would call us first thing in the morning. Let me just say that this vet was definitely lacking in people skills and rushed us through the entire visit (which lasted about 5 minutes). Needless to say I felt very uncomfortable leaving my baby in this man’s hands. However we left Taz there and went home. This particular vet was only open till 7pm so we couldn’t call or visit at night which was very frustrating. We actually went to the vet’s office at about 10pm and just stood outside of the locked door and tried to look in and say hi to Taz because we were a little scared and missed him. This is why it is best to choose a vet that can see your pet immediately, that you feel comfortable with and that has 24 hour emergency care. All vets are not created equal so if you feel you have a vet who doesn’t know as much as he should or doesn’t seem to know enough to help your pet, seek a second opinion.

The next morning I woke up and waited a few hours for a phone call (the phone call that would come ‘first thing in the morning’). At about 11 am I decided to call them. I couldn’t wait any longer. I asked the vet how Taz was. The vet replied, ‘I think it would be best to put Taz to sleep’. In shock I asked, ‘So what can we do for Taz, what is wrong with him?’. The vet only said, ‘I think the kindest thing for Taz would be to put him to sleep, he is a very sick kitty’. I said I would come down and got off the phone completely hysterical and crying. I didn’t know what to do, how could he be fine one day and slated for death the next! It made no sense, he was only 6 months old. It just couldn’t be true. My husband calmed me down (I was a basket case) and said we would go pick Taz up and get a second opinion.

When we got to the vet’s office Taz was a wreck. His right pupil was completely dilated and fixed (a problem I later found out was called anisocoria), he couldn’t walk, move, or eat. He had completely gone downhill overnight. So we brought him home. I had to do something for my baby, there had to be some treatment available. And to make it worse, at that point as not all the tests had come back, we didn’t even know what it was that he had! This of course made it all the more frustrating that I was being told to put my cat to sleep when a positive diagnosis had yet to be made!

So after a second opinion (which was the same as the first) we contacted a third vet who we found as a referral from a friend. This vet was very kind and actually treated Taz like a person. He watched him walk, did a full exam and by the end of the exam the results of all the tests had come back from the first vet. Taz had FIP, I had never heard of it. The vet explained to us what it was and that it was not good. He said that all cats die from it. Taz at this point was almost completely unable to use any motor functions and his neurological system was completely shutting down. He was badly dehydrated and couldn’t eat. However, we explained to this vet (this vet actually gave us the time of day) that we were both immunologists and that we wanted to try to do whatever we could. We explained that we would know when Taz had given up and until then we would fight for him. After discussing the disease with our vet we came up with a treatment containing fluid therapy, interferon, prednisone, antibiotics and syringe feeding. Our vet explained that the prognosis was not good and that we would eventually would need to decide when Taz’s quality of life was bad enough that it was too cruel to keep him alive, but in the meantime it was worth a shot.

Taz immediately received sub-Q fluids and then came home with us. At this point he could do nothing other than lay on the floor completely motionless. However he did purr when I petted him and looked at me when I spoke to him – he was still fighting as much as he could. And thus we began our therapy for Taz. It was not easy. We stayed up with him for the first 48 hours giving him medications, helping him eat, helping him drink and assisting him while he went to the bathroom. Within a week he had perked up and slowly was able to start walking and moving. He still required medications, care, feeding and help to the bathroom every few hours but he was improving. After about 2 months he was stable enough to eat and go to the bathroom on his own and only required his medications a few times a day. He continued with medications for about a year and a half. At which point the vet and I decided to wean him off the medications slowly. The weaning took about a year. At this point Taz has been medicine free since 1999. He has gained 10 lbs since he got sick (he was 7lbs when he was diagnosed) and is as healthy as can be. He gets blood drawn each year to check for the virus and his titer is exactly the same as it was when he was first diagnosed. It has been over 4 years since Taz was diagnosed and we were told to put him to sleep. Now Taz faithfully goes for walks in the park and chases dogs (Taz always wins), loves to play and still acts like a kitten. To look at him and be with him, he is the picture of health and happiness.

So what happened here? Basically we allowed his body to increase the cell-mediated immune response and while slowing down the antibody-mediated response. With that the virus, although still present in the body in high numbers, is no longer causing symptoms as his body has found a way to live with the virus without causing disease symptoms. Is this method full proof for all cats with FIP? Probably not. Is this a cure? No. Nothing will get rid of the virus once the cat has it in his/her body. However, it has helped many cats to live long and happy lives and is worth a try for your cat. Hopefully in years to come better treatments and a possible cure can be developed. However for the time being this has given many cats hope who before had none.

Taz’s Therapy:

Taz initially received fluid therapy subcutaneously. After that he was put on the following medications:

  • Interferon
  • Prednisone
  • Antibiotics
  • Syringe feeding (until he could eat on his own) of high-quality A/D Science Diet food and water
  • Love, love, love, petting, love, petting, love, love, love

If you have any questions about Taz or FIP, feel free to contact us through our ‘Ask the Kitty Nurse Hotline’. We would be happy to fax over a copy of Taz’s medical records, including the specific amounts of medications he was given, how long he was given them etc.

And make sure to pay extra attention to your pet during this time. Believe it or not the ‘will to live’ can help so make sure you give your pet every reason to want to get better!

Medication Definitions:

Interferon – Interferon is a protein that is naturally produced in the body which has a few different effects. Note that there are 3 different types of interferons: alpha, beta and gamma and most vets will have alpha on-hand. First it stimulates cell-mediated immunity. And second it can interfere with viral replication itself. These two effects make it very useful in combating FIP.

Prednisone – Prednisone is a corticosteriod. It is a powerful anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive agent. This is helpful as the immune response creates a lot of inflammation and it also helps us keep the antibody-mediated response low. Prolonged use to corticosteriods can cause weakening of the bone and connective tissue so you only want to use it if you need to (and in light of the effects of FIP, it is worth it in this situation).

Antibiotics – A chemical which has the effect to kill or inhibit the growth of bacterium. This will help your cat fight off any secondary infections which can be caught while the cat is immuno-compromised.