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Pets: A cure remains elusive for cats with FIP

Q: My 6-month-old kitten is suffering from the wet form of feline infectious peritonitis (FIP). In an effort to ease Ashley’s pain, my veterinarian removed fluid from her chest and gave us an antibiotic for her. After five days, Ashley’s breathing became labored again, and the veterinarian said, “there’s no hope.” Is there any way to cure my baby? – M.M., Malaysia

A: To directly answer your question, Dr. Niels Pederson, professor emeritus at the University of California School of Veterinary Medicine, Davis – who’s pretty much responsible for most of the knowledge we have today about FIP – says, “I’m sad to tell you there is no good answer. Keep in mind, you don’t want your kitten to suffer.”

Sometimes FIP is misdiagnosed, but assuming your veterinarian has it right, and though much has been discovered in recent years about this insidious disease, it’s still considered fatal.

“While draining the fluid in the chest can improve your cat’s breathing, helping her to feel more comfortable, this approach may actually cause further problems,” Pedersen says. Within a day or two, the fluid will return, which makes the cat’s system work harder to replace the depleting protein. There’s no good answer here. A steroid can help your cat to feel better, which is fine. But at some point, if it is wet FIP, your cat will suddenly go downhill.”

FIP is a caused by a mutation of the otherwise benign corona virus. However, sometimes, for unknown reasons, the benign corona virus transforms inside the cat into the autoimmune disease called FIP.

There really is no cure for FIP, per se. Drug ideas are frequently bandied about. The latest is called Feline Interferon Omega (FIO), which is in very limited use, but which Pedersen doesn’t support. He adds, however, that research may find a drug to eventually work in tandem with FIO for dry FIP only. Other researchers differ and support FIO’s use to help some cats with FIP. No matter, the drug is expensive and hard to obtain.

The Winn Feline Foundation Bria Fund, now celebrating 10 years, continues to raise money to fund further FIP studies. Pedersen is now investigating a class of antiviral drugs (called Protease inhibitors), and he’s optimistic, though time will tell.


Q: Do you have a dog flu update? – C.P., Neptune, N.J.

A: Yes! The new dog flu (called H3N2), which arrived here from Asia, is now considered an epidemic. The virus has been positively identified in at least 17 states – some with only a few confirmed cases and others with many more.

In the Chicago area a few months ago, many clinics saw 15 to 20 coughing dogs daily, adding up to thousands of sick dogs. That number had dropped to near zero for most clinics, but now several veterinary hospitals are seeing a slight increase in coughing dogs.

No one knows for sure how many dogs nationwide have been sickened or died, since many owners decline testing for their pets (there is a specific test available for the H3N2 strain), and other dogs just don’t get sick enough to see a veterinarian.

“The good news is that most dogs recover on their own or with supportive veterinary care,” says Dr. Melissa Bourgeois, a specialist in microbiology and Senior Specialist for Drug Safety at Merck Animal Health.

It seems the mortality rate of the H3N2 flu strain is about one to three percent.

“That’s very low, but not if it’s your dog,” Chicago veterinarian Dr. Natalie Marks adds.

Any dog exposed will get sick (except perhaps dogs who have recovered from this flu strain and have some immunity).

Veterinary medicine is all about risk/benefit. If you live in an area where flu doesn’t exist, or just one or two dogs have been diagnosed, the risk of your pet getting the flu is minimal, while there are many benefits to allowing social dogs to hang with their own kind.

Bourgeois says to watch for the following flu symptoms:

1. Coughing

2. Discharge from the nose and/or eyes

3. Not wanting to exercise

4. Not wanting to eat

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