Animal Scene - - HEALTH - Text By STEF DELA CRUZ, MD

Saab had a rou­tine ev­ery morn­ing at the vet’s clinic. He would go to the bal­cony to get some sun­light,” shared teacher­pho­tog­ra­pher and proud ‘purrent’ Jonna Baquil­las, re­call­ing Saab’s last days at the vet clinic. Saab had been di­ag­nosed with fe­line in­fec­tious peri­toni­tis (FIP), a dis­ease which is gen­er­ally fa­tal. It also had no cure. Jonna spent a good part of the week at the vet­eri­nary clinic with­out so much as the lux­ury of a bath just so she could be there when Saab’s time came. She knew with a heavy heart that he didn’t have much time left. Sun­day came. It had been days since her last bath and Jonna hoped she could fi­nally take the shower she very much needed. She left at 4:30 in

the af­ter­noon, promis­ing to come back as soon as pos­si­ble. About an hour later, the vet called her. “It’s al­most time.” Jonna rushed back to the clinic as fast as hu­manly pos­si­ble. Sadly, Saab was gone be­fore she got there. It was as if he just waited for Jonna to leave – he didn’t want his beloved hu­man see him suf­fer­ing with his dy­ing breath.


Seven-month-old Saab, res­cued by Jonna when he was two months young, left her still-griev­ing me­owmy too early in Oc­to­ber 2013. It has been more than a year since then, but to this day, Jonna still uses Saab’s meow as her text alert tone. There were five things Jonna learned about FIP, things she hopes you will also learn, to help stop FIP be­fore it comes knock­ing on your door.

1. FIP can hap­pen to any cat

“When the vet told me Saab might have FIP, I was in de­nial.” Jonna wouldn’t have any of it. As the vet ex­plained away, she was on her smart­phone, busy read­ing about FIP on her own. “At the time, I thought, it couldn’t be.” FIP is caused by a coro­n­avirus trans­mit­ted via the poop and saliva of re­cently-in­fected cats, ac­cord­ing to the Cor­nell Fe­line Health Cen­ter. Some­times, even cats who sur­vive FIP also shed the virus in smaller amounts. The coro­n­avirus sur­vives for a few weeks in inan­i­mate ob­jects – just be­cause you don’t see a cat around doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. How­ever, the usual way kit­tens get FIP is from their mother.

2. Coro­n­avirus test re­sults nei­ther con­clu­sively con­firm nor rule out FIP

When Saab was tested for coro­n­avirus in­fec­tion, his test re­sults ini­tially came back neg­a­tive.

Just be­cause your cat has a neg­a­tive coro­n­avirus an­ti­body test does not nec­es­sar­ily mean he has no FIP. Sev­eral other tests, such as body fluid anal­y­sis, can sup­port a di­ag­no­sis of FIP, ac­cord­ing to The Amer­i­can So­ci­ety for the Preven­tion of Cru­elty to An­i­mals (ASPCA). How­ever, there is no sin­gle con­clu­sive test for the dis­ease. On the other hand, although any coro­n­avirus in­fec­tion may lead to FIP, a pos­i­tive test does not al­ways mean a con­clu­sive FIP di­ag­no­sis. That isn’t nec­es­sar­ily the path that your cat’s health will take.

3. Treat­ing a cat with­out FIP as one with FIP can lead to dev­as­tat­ing re­sults

When Saab’s vet first de­clared FIP as a po­ten­tial di­ag­no­sis, Jonna didn’t want to ac­cept it at face value. “It’s hard to di­ag­nose FIP. It needs many lab tests in­stead of just one.” Jonna then re­quested for more con­fir­ma­tory tests. The signs and symp­toms of FIP are due to the im­mune sys­tem’s in­ap­pro­pri­ate, ex­ces­sive im­mune re­sponse to the in­fec­tion, not the in­fec­tion it­self. It can take weeks or even years be­fore a cat with coro­n­avirus in­fec­tion will man­i­fest with FIP, if he de­vel­ops it at all. Jonna learned that it’s im­por­tant to not au­to­mat­i­cally as­so­ciate a pos­i­tive coro­n­avirus an­ti­body test with an FIP di­ag­no­sis. The ini­tial treat­ment for FIP in­volves steroids which help min­i­mize the im­mune over­re­ac­tion. Pic­ture what hap­pens if a cat sick with some­thing other than FIP is given steroids: his im­mune sys­tem can­not ef­fec­tively fight what­ever germs he’s got.

4. FIP can ei­ther be wet or dry

Jonna no­ticed Saab’s tummy look­ing big­ger than nor­mal in a photo sent by the vet. Her heart sank. It looked like Saab had the ef­fu­sive, or ‘wet’ type of FIP. Jonna knew it was the type that pro­gressed more ag­gres­sively. The wet type of FIP is named so be­cause fluid leaks from blood ves­sels to body cav­i­ties, such as the chest and ab­dom­i­nal cav­ity, re­ported the ASPCA. A dis­tended ab­domen, just like Saab’s, means fluid has ac­cu­mu­lated in the ab­dom­i­nal cav­ity. On the other hand, gran­u­lo­mas, seen un­der the mi­cro­scope as col­lec­tions of im­mune cells, char­ac­ter­ize the dry type. These gran­u­lo­mas re­sult in the symp­toms unique to the or­gans af­fected. Re­gard­less of type, FIP may man­i­fest as an­tibi­otic-re­sis­tant fever, poor ap­petite, weak­ness, and weight loss.

5. There is yet no vac­cine proven to pre­vent FIP

As is the case with ev­ery other vac­cine, the risks should be weighed against the ben­e­fits. There is one vac­cine avail­able against FIP, but be­cause of its ques­tion­able ef­fec­tive­ness and higher risk-to­ben­e­fit ra­tio, the Fe­line Vac­cine Ad­vi­sory of the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of Fe­line Prac­ti­tion­ers does not ad­vo­cate its use.

Jonna now takes an ac­tive role in urg­ing other fur-par­ents to read up and learn about FIP. With­out an ef­fec­tive FIP vac­cine, it is all the more vi­tal for cat par­ents to find out about this deadly dis­ease. Last year, Jonna shared on her blog, “You were in a mil­lion tiny pieces. Your ashes are the only re­minder that you once ruled our home.” On March the 31st of this year, Saab would have cel­e­brated his sec­ond res­cue an­niver­sary. A day af­ter Saab fi­nally went over the rain­bow bridge to earn his an­gel cat wings, he was cre­mated and brought back home. Some­thing Jonna learned from Saab’s pass­ing: to em­brace life with pas­sion. Even af­ter his death, Saab re­mained larger than life.

De­spite ob­vi­ous changes due to FIP, Saab’s eyes re­vealed to the whole world his zest for life.

This photo was taken be­fore Saab first showed symp­toms of fe­line in­fec­tious peri­toni­tis. When his ‘hooman,’ Jonna, first laid eyes on him, it was love at first sight!

Saab cel­e­brated Christ­mas three months early. Those whose lives he had touched were afraid he wouldn’t make it to De­cem­ber.

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