Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Is There Hope for Cats With FIP?

Is There Hope for Cats With FIP?

Frankie, pictured here, was one of those special cats you have only once or twice in a lifetime, those ones who really steal your heart. He loved everybody and was certain that they loved him back...and they usually did. Dog people would say he was "just like a dog," which is something they consider to be a compliment. He was a large cat with beautiful green eyes that looked directly into your soul, strong as an ox, fearless, gregarious, smart and curious. Every time we'd raise the garage door upon driving up to the house, he'd run out to greet us.

FIP: Stage 1

When Frankie started sneezing all the time and having runny eyes, we put it off to allergies. After all, it was springtime and there was a lot of pollen in the air. I had allergies, my mother had allergies, so it only made sense that our cat who mainly lived outdoors would have them, too. He'd gotten into a tussle with something that had given him an abscess in his ear shortly before, so we wondered if there was a connection. The vet said that some cats just get chronic upper respiratory infections that are hard to cure. We got used to being sneezed on because Frankie was worth it.

FIP: Stage 2

The following spring, he was plagued with terrible stomach upset that the vet diagnosed as pancreatitis. Since he didn't use a litter box, but went outdoors, it was hard to notice at first. But then after he'd eaten we'd see him squatting right in the middle of the yard, as though he had painful intestinal spasms. His vigorous appetite seemed to wane a bit, probably to avoid the spasms he experienced post-mealtime. After a pricey and extended hospitalization, they put Frankie on a special prescription diet we could only buy at the vet's, and said he'd have to stay on it for the rest of his life. We jokingly called him our million-dollar alley cat.

FIP: Stage 3

As it turned out, "the rest of his life" would be less than a year. The following Valentine's Day, he went into the third and final stage. He was breathing very quickly and shallowly. Looking down at him from above, he almost looked like a body builder, with an abnormally huge chest and tiny hips. I scooped him up and rushed him to the emergency vet. Since they didn't have his history, they didn't make the connection and had no idea what was causing his condition. They drained his chest cavity of the fluid, put him in an oxygenated box overnight and sent him home Sunday afternoon, but said he was still a very sick cat who needed to see his regular vet Monday morning.

That Sunday night, Frankie was so happy to be home that my mother let him in the house. He laid on his back in my lap and kneaded the air. She even let him do the same in her lap for a few minutes, something my mother never did. But she knew this was probably our last night with him, and she did love him so. Something told her this was the mysterious "FIP" disease, Feline Infectious Peritonitis, that I'd read about online after encountering the term in an article. "Hey," I'd said, "You know, Frankie has had both the symptoms of the first two stages of this disease; I wonder if that's what's been causing all his problems?" My mother thought so, and kept waiting for the final stage to appear. I didn't want to believe it, but she was right. Despite the vet's best efforts, which included a week of hospitalization and a chest tube to drain the fluid that kept accumulating in his chest, our darling little kitty boy died there a week later. He was textbook case of FIP.

Difficulties Diagnosing FIP

Even with all the evidence pointing to FIP, my vet couldn't make a definite diagnosis without running expensive post-mortem tests that we didn't want to do. And that's not his fault. He's a very good veterinarian, but the disease is so mysterious that it's difficult to diagnose. Since it's caused by a mutation of a very common and usually benign feline virus to which virtually all cats are exposed as kittens, most cats would test positive for it, whether or not they actually had it. So there's no reliable test for it. There's no vaccine against it, largely for the same reason. It's as impossible to prevent as the common cold. And even with a correct diagnosis, there's no treatment for FIP. Once the virus morphs into the wet (effusive) or dry form of the disease, it's always a death sentence. Dr. Al Legendre of the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine says that FIP is the most complex disease he's ever studied.

But more cats are affected by FIP than you'd think. It kills one in 100-300 of all cats under 5 years old. Our Frankie was older, but he still developed it. With over 93 million cats owned as pets in the United States, that works out to a disease that will kill roughly 1-2 million cats in this country alone. Cats who have lived in catteries or shelters are even more susceptible. Frankie may have picked it up while he was a resident of our local humane society. With funding for research into cat diseases lagging far behind that for dogs, however, a cure for FIP has remained elusive.

New FIP Treatments Offer Hope

But hope springs eternal. One drug developed to treat feline herpes virus, which causes an upper respiratory infection in cats, has proven effective in the short term at treating the dry form of FIP in about 20% of cases. It's called Polyprenyl Immunostimulant (PI). But PI is completely ineffective against the wet form, the one that claimed our Frankie. Studies continue on the reasons for this difference, and why it works on some cats and not others. While at the Global Pet Expo last week, I heard of another new drug called T-cyte that was developed to treat FIV and FeLV that has also shown promise in treating FIP.

Want more information? Dr. Legendre will join Dr. Niels Pederson, who directs the Center of Companion Animal Health at the University of California School of Veterinary Medicine, in headlining the 2011 Winn Feline Foundation Symposium in June, entitled WINNing the FIP Fight. It will take place at the Hyatt Regency in Reston, Virginia. While the symposium will be of most interest to veterinarians, anyone may attend. Register online or by calling 856-447-9787.

Nobody should have to lose a beloved cat the way we lost Frankie, and no cat should have to suffer as he did. Until my mother's death five months after his, whenever we would arrive home and Frankie wasn't there to greet us, she would lament, "I miss him every day." Let's hope that new research will soon yield a cure for this terrible disease.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Which Cat Matches Your Personality?

Cat adoption agencies that match cats with adopters' personalities should have more success, and now there's a study to prove it.

A research group at the University of Vienna's Konrad Lorenz Research Center conducted a study of 40 cats and owners over a 3 1/2 year period. Using video cameras, interviews and written questionnaires, the personalities of the owners and cats were compared with how the two interacted.

Owner personalities were analyzed in five dimensions:
  • neuroticism
  • extraversion
  • openness to experience
  • agreeableness
  • conscientiousness
Cats' personalities were also assessed in five dimensions based on observations and the owner's analysis. Interactions were examined to determine their level of complexity. Previously hidden patterns of behavior were detected by software that analyzed video footage of the cats and owners interacting with each other. Repeated behaviors discovered this way were referred to as temporal, or t-, patterns.

Turns out that the personality and gender of the owner, along with the personality and age of the cat, are the main factors influencing their relationship. The length of time they've lived together is not as important as these personality factors. Women interact more with their cats. Older cats like simpler patterns of interaction, just as older human couples become more ritualistic in their interactions. This is less true for same-sex pairings of owner and cat; women with girl cats and men with boy cats continue having more complex interactions through the years.

More neurotic owners have less t-patterns with their cats than their more well adjusted counterparts. The cats don't seem to enjoy interacting with those who fuss over them all the time. Extroverted owners interact more frequently with their cats. Very active cats interact less often with their owners, but each of their t-patterns has more complexity. And it turns out that the best interactions are initiated by the cat, not the human.

So what does this mean for us average old maid cat ladies? Looks like matching the right cat to the right person does have some validity, after all! Dr. Kurt Kotrschal, who penned the study, told, “Cats are more interesting than dogs. Dogs can’t help but be attached to their owners. Cats regard their owners differently.” Well, duh! We could've told them that without a long study...but it is nice to have some bona fide research to back up what we know.

An abstract of the study's findings was published in the January, 2011 issue of the journal Behavioural Processes. Or, if your German's good, you can read it online at the University's website.

Got a cat who's suddenly acting crazy? It may be anything from an indication of illness to a mere disruption in the cat's normal routine. Our little furry buddies don't like change, and they're masters at hiding the symptoms of illness.'s Health Time section has an assortment of calming products, along with holistic and natural supplements for whatever ails Kitty, whatever her personality (or yours).

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Beyond Geriatric

Okay, so cats are supposedly "senior" by between ages 9-12, and "geriatric" by age 14. So what would you call one who's now 23? Super-geriatric? Tenacious? Determined?

That would be my little Vixen, whose birthday we celebrate this month, when she first came to live with me 22 years ago! That's her pictured on the fake Cat Fancy cover (which I created at; very fun site!). She's always had a habit of crossing her front paws, so ladylike. It always makes me smile to see her do it.

Vixen has a lot of the symptoms of aging; her knees bother her, her heart races sometimes, she can't hear at all, doesn't see as well, and her sense of smell isn't as sharp as it used to be. She gets cold more often, and no longer jumps up on anything. There aren't as many teeth in her mouth as there used to be. Her voice has dropped down from the sweet, soft little "meows" she used to emit into a gravelly, old-lady yowl, sort of like the chain-smoking aunties on The Simpsons. She gets grumpy when she's hungry. (We old maid cat ladies can relate to that one!)

But she's also much wiser in her old age. Every morning, if she wakes up before I do, she walks by to see if I'm awake yet. If I seem to be asleep, she'll quietly move on, eating some crunchies or going to the potty. Then she'll sit next to her heater and check on me every few minutes until I awaken. After a quick little "Aaar" greeting from the floor (her way of saying "hey"), she wants to come up and have some cuddle time with me, followed closely by her first of several breakfasts.

Cuddle time is much more important to Vixen these days. She'd told pet psychic Laura Stinchfield that she thinks we should spend some time together every day, "thinking good thoughts." The types of thoughts she described sounded an awful lot like the positive visualization that's hyped by motivational speakers. See what I mean? She's a wise little lady.

And so we both continue, her into the twilight of her life as I venture boldly forth in my middle age. We're both thankful for every day, both a little apprehensive about what the future may bring. But we still have each other, a roof over our head, and good food on the table. As she regularly reminds me, what more do we really need? We are rich, indeed.

Little Vixen was the inspiration for the Senior Cats section of If you have a kitty who's getting up in age and needs a little help every now and then, you may find just the things there to help.