Our Savannah kitten was diagnosed with fatal feline infectious peritonitis. This is Luna's story of survival thanks to developing research.
Our First Pet: A Beautiful Savannah Cat
After careful research and education to learn about Savannah cats and select a reputable breeder, Luna joined our family in March of 2017 at 10 weeks. She was spunky, alert, playful, and in seemingly good health when I picked her up in Boston. Luna's exceedingly friendly, funny, quirky, overly loving, and loaded with personality. She exceeded all our expectations of what we thought a Savannah cat would be like. She quickly melded into our home and our hearts as our first pet and special family member.
Luna was due for her second feline distemper combination vaccine and a vet exam. On April 13th, 2017, she received the vaccine, which is the routine protocol for cats. After receiving the vaccine, Luna refused to eat, continually slept, and felt hot to the touch. My husband and I thought her mid-abdomen looked distended, but when I mentioned this to the vet during this visit, she said it was "normal kitten belly."
The only abnormal finding was a grade III heart murmur during her exam, which was thought to be benign. The plan was to reassess the murmur in a few months and consider a referral to a veterinary cardiologist if it didn't resolve.
Luna's FIP Diagnosis: The Right Place at the Right Time
The abdominal distention worsened, and on April 21st, we took Luna to the emergency clinic. I'd already researched common causes of abdominal distention in kittens and read about Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP). FIP was in the back of my mind; however, it's not relatively common. I thought at the worst; it'd be a parasite.
The vet aspirated the fluid from her abdomen during the exam and brought it to the room in a specimen tube. She was sure; given the fluid assessment, lack of appetite, lethargy, and fever of 105 degrees, Luna had the effusive (wet) form of FIP. She told us about the grim prognosis, and she had a few days, to maybe two weeks at best. She suggested we come back in a few days to consult with an internist to discuss any life-prolonging options and second opinion or euthanize if her condition deteriorated over the weekend.
On April 24th, we saw the specialist for a second opinion. Luna had an echocardiogram, x-rays, ultrasound, and more blood tests to confirm FIP diagnosis. This time was a long, grueling three days. We refused to accept the reality of losing our new baby. I scrambled to research how we could save her. FIP is 100% fatal, with no treatment or cure. How could this be happening?
There had to be a way to save her. As a nurse in a large teaching hospital, I am familiar with clinical trials and research. I thought to myself, "surely there's something out there in the works for FIP." I called and emailed every major veterinary college I could find online during that very long and grueling weekend of waiting to see the specialist.
Luna's Journey to U.C. Davis for a Life-Saving Drug Trial
To my surprise, on April 23rd, I received a call back from Michael Bannasch at UCD, assistant to Dr. Niels Pedersen. Dr. Pedersen is a vet, professor, and researcher, who's worked on a cure for FIP since the 1960s. Michael shared the news of a new drug trial that was pending institutional approval. We discussed Luna’s diagnosis and testing details, and he requested I email Luna's vet records and test results. I received another call on the 24th to further discuss the trial and the possibility of flying with Luna to Sacramento--IF they could get the approval pushed through.
If we made it, Luna would be the first privately owned, naturally acquired FIP infected cat to start this new drug trial. To make this even more hopeful, she was at the perfect age to respond to the drug; an anti-viral agent. Luna would stay at their clinic for 5-10 days of drug trial and monitoring.
Time was limited, as she was deteriorating. Her fever was 105 degrees. Dr. Pedersen instructed us to stop the palliative medications (feline omega interferon and prednisone) and get there as soon as we could.
We made it to Sacramento on April 28th, seven days after her diagnosis. Dr. Pedersen explained the protocol in detail, complete with diagrams of how the drug works to stop viral replication. We then went to the room where Luna would stay for the next 5-10 days, and that's when she received her first injection, as well as a thorough examination.
Luna's Time at U.C. Davis With Dr. Niels Pedersen
The Anti-Viral Trial Drug Known as EVO984/GS-441524 Went to Work Immediately
Luna responded extremely fast to the drug called "EVO984 (later called GS-441524). We saw an immediate improvement in her fever and behavior after only one injection. Luna responded so well; we were able to come home on day six. She would receive another 11 plus weeks of daily injections to complete her treatment regimen. It was like bringing home a healthy, new kitten, a kitten free from fever, malaise, and abdominal distention.
I continued to administer the anti-viral injections daily at home for a total of 12 weeks. Dr. Pedersen guided us the entire time and when to have blood work repeated by our local vet. Dr. Pedersen reviewed the results, along with periodic weight checks, so her dosage could be adjusted accordingly.
As a side note, this is the second drug trial since 2016 conducted by UCD for FIP. The first drug, GC376, was able to put five out of 20 FIP cats into successful remission, who, to date, haven't relapsed. Luna's drug, EVO984/GS-441524, has been even more successful, with approximately 26 cats achieving full remission, which later was confidently called "cured."
If you'd like to read more about the FIP drug trials at UCD and the current status of the above anti-viral, I recommend these articles:
- A Glimmer of Hope For a Fatal Feline Disease
- Ending FIP: Is There Hope?
- Final paper on EVO984/GS441524. Luna is CT52
- Inappropriate use of GS-441524 in an attempt to eliminate Feline Enteric Coronavirus (FECV) from healthy cats
Important Note: Both trials at UCD are closed.
A Happy Ending for Luna and a Hopeful Future for Cats Diagnosed With FIP
Luna’s last injection of EVO984 - GS-441524 was July 23rd, 2017. She's thriving, shows no signs of disease, and her lab work remains perfect today. She loves to go camping and on our backpacking adventures. She's hiked up to 13 miles, either walking on her harness or riding on the backpack. It's not every day that you see a cat on a leash on the trails or at a campsite!
Luna's been FIP-free for almost four years. She's living a normal, healthy life and is enjoying her three buddies, Savannah cats, Titan, Calypso, and Phoebe, whom we added in October 2017 and November 2018.
Steve Dale, animal behaviorist and radio personality at "Steve Dale's Pet World," interviewed me about Luna's drug trial. You can listen to the radio interview (Flash Player required) about Luna's journey.
Luna Loves Camping and Backpacking With Her Humans
Do You Have Experience With FIP?
Comments and feedback about your own experiences with FIP are most welcome. I value input from others and fully support you and your cat. Feel free to ask any questions about FIP and current treatment options, and I'll do my best to direct you to the best resources.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: Is EVO984 available in Germany? I lost my tomcat last month to FIP, and my other cat is Corona positive.
Answer: My condolences on the loss of your cat. FIP is so brutal. The medicine is not yet available anywhere sadly as it's still in the publication process of the trial and awaiting the US FDA approval and a drug company to take it on.
Question: Was the effusion drained during the study discussed in this article? Was any medicine given to boost the immune system of Luna during or after the trial? Was there any special food given during the drug trial?
Answer: No, we never drained the effusion; it will only come right back sadly. During the study, her fluid dissipated and was gone completely within five days. Luna was not given any other medications or immune boosters aside from the EVO984 trial drug. I fed Luna a mostly raw diet of turkey and chicken. I gave her canned food as well so that she could get the added nutrients. The food was grain free and as close to raw as I could get it. These are great questions! Thank you and if you have a cat with FIP, please visit my personal website (link is on my profile) for the most recent data from Dr. Pedersen on symptomatic treatment. I posted it last evening.
Question: Is medicine for Feline Infectious Peritonitis available in Germany?
Answer: This medicine is not commercially available anywhere yet. Just a small amount was made for the trials. The United States FDA has to approve it and it can take years. The process is about a year underway, so they are hoping no more than 2 more years. It is being made in China, but they are only guessing at the formulation and charging horrendous amounts of money and there are no dosing calculations as it is dependent on weight, age, and type of FIP the cat has. To follow Luna's entire journey, you can go to my blog at www.debraroberts.net. The second it's available commercially, I will be spreading the word there.
Question: Did you feed any supplements to Luna during or after the treatment, what does Dr. Pedersen recommend?
Answer: No, we did not give Luna anything besides her medication and that was based on Dr. Pedersen's recommendations. His biggest advice was an all-meat diet (no grains, fillers, etc.)
Question: My cat was diagnosed with FIP and today is the ninth day of GS 441524. The result of the USG today seems to indicate that ascites has subsided, but there are signs of the medullary rim and non-homogenous liver cells as well as some whitening on the edges. Should this be a concern for now? His medication with GS-441524 is still ongoing.
Answer: I am so happy you've accessed and started your cat on the GS 441524. This sounds like a rather complicated finding and one I'm not familiar with. I would direct this question to Dr. Niels Pedersen at UCDavis. You can contact him through this link: https://www.ucdavis.edu/person/articles/1843. That said, I would absolutely continue his treatment unless Dr. Pedersen says otherwise. The fact he is improving is excellent news.
Question: My kitten, Chester, is currently being treated for FIP. Can you explain the particulars of the all-meat diet?
Answer: Feline diets are very specific. Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they require meat in their diet and need little carbohydrates. In the wild, cats prey on small animals, such as mice and birds; and as a pet, they are reliant on their owner's hand at feeding them. Because pet cats often don’t get the opportunity to hunt for their own food, it’s important for cat owners to mimic the high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet their cat would naturally eat in the wild. What are you using to treat your cat for FIP? I wish you the best and hope for speedy healing!
© 2018 Debra Roberts
Please Ask a Question or Leave a Comment
JC Scull from Gainesville, Florida on February 01, 2020:
Luna is a ravishing girl. Meow...Meow
Debra Roberts (author) from Ohio on January 31, 2020:
That is very kind, thank you so much!!!!
Suzie from Carson City on January 30, 2020:
Debra...CONGRATULATIONS on your Hubbie Award!! Nice work! Cheers, Paula
Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on January 30, 2020:
It is good to note that she survived the deadly disease. Article presented nicely. Thanks.
Subhashish Roy on June 14, 2019:
Luna is such a cute inmate and am so happy that she is fine and doing well. God bless her.
Lyosha on June 13, 2019:
I am so happy she is alive and well. Pets should never suffer, that is super important to me. She looks super happy being a part of your family!
Charmaine Daisley on June 13, 2019:
I'm so happy that your beloved Luna is alive and well. She and her siblings look so adorable and absolutely spoiled. You and your husband seem like such loving parents to them. Thank God for that trial drug that cured Luna's FIP and for all our other feline friends it's going to save in the future, as well. All the best to Luna!
The Sunny Side Lifestyle Co. on June 13, 2019:
As a cat owner I was not aware of FIP nor that cats could participate in clinical trials. So thankful that Luna is doing well and you were able to find her the care she needed.
Tracy @ Cleland Clan on June 13, 2019:
Wow! Talk about the right place at the right time! Luna would not have survived without your persistence. This new drug sounds so promising--hopefully it will save many more pets.
By Joanna K on June 13, 2019:
I’m not into cats. I grew up with dogs, so I don’t know much about taking care of cats. I have friends who consider their cats a member of their family. I’m certain that they’d appreciate your article. I appreciate the love you have for all your pets; that can make a lot of difference as well.
Live Learn Better on June 12, 2019:
I'm hearing about FIP for the first time, but I'm delighted to know that a cure is now available for it.
Thank you for sharing the journey.
Snehal on June 12, 2019:
I had no idea about FIP. And this cndition sounds so painful :( I am glad that the cat is fine now :) you know what I have always wanted this kind of a cat but I did not know that it is called Savannah Cat. :)
Scott DeNicola on June 11, 2019:
What a great story and congratulations to Luna. As someone who works in the pharmaceutical industry, I'm used to hearing a lot of negative about drug companies. It's stories like this that keep me believing that we are doing the right thing. I have four dogs and we would do anything for them.
Brensi on June 11, 2019:
I lost a rescue kitty from FIP when there was no information anywhere. That was approximately 23 years ago, so,I am very happy to hear there is a cure now.
i also want to share that I had a beautiful black cat with copper eyes that someone told me that he was a Bombay. This cat also walked on a leash and liked to go through the drive thru bank with me!
Anyway, thanks again for the good news (way overdue)!
Despite Pain on June 11, 2019:
Oh Debra, what an amazing story. I am so glad you were able to find Dr Pedersen. Pets become part of the family, so it's natural to try to search for cures for them just as we would for human family. Luna is such a beautiful cat. I can imagine a few heads turning when seeing her on the backpack.
This is such a hopeful story for any cat owners,
Erica (The Prepping Wife) on June 11, 2019:
Luna is absolutely beautiful, and I'm so glad you were able to find even a trial to cure her and keep her in your family! That is fantastic. I'm sure she does capture a lot of attention when she goes hiking and camping with you. This was a wonderful story to read, Deb, with a very happy ending!
Bitai Attila on March 29, 2019:
My cat passed away from FIP on 2019, February 16th at 2:14 PM. I'm glad to see that the terrible disease might go away.
Dr Mark from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on November 21, 2018:
Hi Deb I read this great story when you first published it. This is really great. I remember not too many years ago when we told people that FIP was like a death sentence.
It is good to hear about cures!
Liz Westwood from UK on October 02, 2018:
Beautiful photos and an encouraging story to match them.