Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Fighting FIP

Can your cat with FIP be treated? The news is hopeful

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

Coronaviruses -- named for the crownlike spikes on their surface -- are in the news, not just for humans but also for cats. Some 40% to 80% of cats in the world are infected with feline enteric coronavirus (FECV), which typically causes no signs or only mild gastrointestinal upset. Sometimes, though, FECV mutates, causing a complex, devastating and nearly always fatal disease of cats called feline infectious peritonitis. It’s most commonly seen in cats who have been exposed to large numbers of other cats, such as in shelters or catteries.

A year ago, if your cat had been diagnosed with FIP, your veterinarian probably would have said, “I’m sorry; your cat is going to die.” Today, what clients with FIP-diagnosed cats are hearing is, “There’s a treatment: It’s complicated, but it appears to work, and it has revolutionized the approach to treating this disease.”

Why is it complicated? The drug used in the study is not FDA-approved in the United States, and it is unavailable from the manufacturer.

The experimental drug was found to be effective in a study funded by Winn Feline Foundation at the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, by researcher Niels Pedersen, DVM, who has studied FIP for decades in search of a treatment or cure. Out of 31 cats treated, 25 still survive.

“Some of these cats were treated over three years ago and are still disease-free,” says Drew Weigner, DVM, a feline specialist who practices in Atlanta and is president of Winn Feline Foundation, which supports cat health research.

The drug that was studied, GS-441524, is made by Gilead Sciences; the company was in the news recently regarding remdesivir, a related drug it makes that is being made available experimentally to fight the COVID-19 coronavirus in humans. Gilead does not supply the drug for FIP treatment, but it did make it available for the UC Davis study. GS, as it’s known for short, is a nucleoside analog, which works by preventing the virus from replicating.

Another treatment, Mutian, also sold under other names, claims to be the same as GS, but there’s no independent verification of that, Dr. Weigner says. Companies that sell Mutian and similar drugs for treatment of FIP say thousands of cats have been treated successfully. The problem, Dr. Weigner says, is that there’s no independent confirmation that the cats being given the drug actually have FIP or confirmation of the numbers of cats who survive.

“That said, there are many, many anecdotal reports on the internet of people who have obtained this drug and used it on their cats and their cats survived,” he says.

Mutian and similar drugs are expensive. Depending on the size of the cat, the type of FIP -- which affects cats in “wet” or “dry” forms -- and the source from which it’s purchased, Mutian’s cost can range from $1,600 to $8,000 for a 12-week course of the drug, which comes in oral or injectable forms.

It’s available online only, not from your neighborhood veterinarian. Because Mutian and drugs like it aren’t FDA-approved, it’s illegal for veterinarians to prescribe them. Some veterinarians won’t treat cats with them, so owners do it themselves at home, obtaining guidance from educational communities such as Facebook groups FIP Warriors and FIP Treatment with Mutian (search the group names on Facebook.com), Sock FIP (sockfip.org) and Zen by Cat (zenbycat.org). Other veterinarians may be unaware of the drugs’ existence and potential to help cats with FIP.

“It is important to get the message out to veterinarians that there are products out there that can be used to treat and cure cats with FIP,” says Vicki Thayer, DVM, who participated in last November’s FIP symposium at UC Davis. “They can choose to support clients and cats through the process.”

The takeaway? Here’s what Dr. Weigner says:

-- FIP is now considered treatable.

-- The treatment’s rate of effectiveness is at least 70%.

-- Efforts are underway to develop safe, effective, cost-effective drugs in the United States.

Q&A

Fennec fox facts

for pet owners

Q: I saw a picture of a fennec fox on Facebook. So cute! I’ve heard that some people keep them as pets. Is that a good idea?

A: There’s no doubt that fennec foxes are cute, with that tiny body (they’re about the size of a Chihuahua, weighing 2 to 4 pounds) and those enormous ears. Vulpes zerda (the scientific name) is the smallest member of the dog family. But small doesn’t necessarily equate to family friendly. I’m not a fan of keeping wild animals as pets, and despite their small size, fennec foxes are undoubtedly wild animals. While they might become tame, they are wired to live and behave in certain ways and can’t be domesticated.

Fennec foxes are crepuscular, meaning they are typically active at dawn and twilight. Those may be the times of day they are most energetic and playful. They enjoy digging and have been known to excavate deep holes, perhaps in search of the insects and rodents that those big ears tell them are underground. Their diet in the wild features insects, rodents, reptiles and vegetation.

Being desert animals, fennec foxes enjoy napping in the sun. They have scent glands that can cause them to have a musky odor. Although they are members of the dog family (Canidae), they have many catlike qualities, including making a purring sound and engaging in mutual grooming. But because they aren’t domesticated, their behavior can be unpredictable.

The tiny wild dogs live 10 to 14 years, so they are a long-term commitment. Keeping one may involve acquiring certain licenses or permits -- or it may even be illegal where you live. And you’ll need to make sure a veterinarian knowledgeable about treating exotic animals practices nearby so you can have expert advice on health, diet and vaccinations. -- Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

THE BUZZ

Burns, smoke

affect heart

-- Cats who suffered burns and smoke inhalation in California wildfires had a high incidence of heart problems, according to a new study from researchers at the University of California, Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. Of 51 cats treated at UC Davis, more than half had heart muscle thickening, and nearly 30% had blood clots or were at high risk of developing blood clots, putting them at greater risk of sudden death. Even cats with only moderate burns had severe heart changes. Further research could help establish a better understanding of how burns can affect both human and feline patients, more effective treatment and prevention of cardiovascular changes. “We also know that these cats inhaled smoke in a very urban environment, exposing them to toxicants,” said lead author Catherine Gunther-Harrington, assistant professor of clinical cardiology at UC Davis VMTH. “These cats could be the canary in the coal mine, letting us know what might happen if more people are exposed to these types of wildfires.”

-- Is the coronavirus that causes FIP related to COVID-19, the new coronavirus disease of animal origin that is infecting humans? Some pet owners wonder whether it can be passed between pets and people. “There is no evidence at this point that COVID-19 is contagious to cats or that people could get COVID-19 from their cat,” says Drew Weigner, DVM. The viruses that cause COVID-19 and FIP are different and cause different types of signs. In humans, COVID-19 is primarily a respiratory disease. In cats, FIP affects multiple organs and often causes intestinal disease and intestinal symptoms.

-- Dogs’ noses can sniff out more than odors. They can also sense weak thermal radiation -- like that given off by prey, for instance. They join a select group of other animals with this ability: black fire beetles, certain snakes and common vampire bats. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.