Last night, several hundred people gathered in a hotel ballroom in Reston, VA for the Winn Feline Foundation’s 33rd Annual Feline Symposium for an unprecedented event featuring two legendary researchers who presented new developments in FIP research. The gathering included such noted feline veterinarians as Dr. Susan Little, past president and current board member of the Winn Feline Foundation and Dr. Jane Brunt, Executive Director of the CATalyst Council, as well as cat breeders, cat rescuers, and veterinarians.
It also included cat owners like Harry and his daughter Rachel, who lost their kitten Parker to the disease. Rachel wore Parker’s collar as a bracelet. “We lost Parker at the age of eight months to this disease I’d never heard of before,” said Harry. “For the last six years, I’ve been following all the research on the disease, and tonight, I’m excited to be here to hear about the latest discoveries.”
FIP are the three worst letters any cat lover can hear. Feline Infectious Peritonitis is caused by a coronavirus and affects the cells of the intestinal tract. The corona virus in itself is a common virus in cats, and cats may not even show symptoms other than perhaps a mild gastrointestinal upset. But for reasons that have eluded researchers so far, in some cats, the benign virus mutates into a highly infectious version that then causes FIP. It usually affects kittens and young cats, and it’s virtually 100% fatal. FIP kills as many as 1 in 100 to 1 in 300 cats under ages 3-5.
Renowned pet journalist and broadcaster Steve Dale opened the event and introduced Alfred M. Legendre, DVM, PhD, ACVIM, Professor of Internal Medicine and Oncology, Small Animal Clinical Sciences, University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, and Niels Pedersen, DVM, PhD, Distinguished Professor, Director of the Center for Companion Animal Health and Director of the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
Dr. Legendre shared preliminary findings from his study of Polyprenyl Immunostimulant in treating the “dry” (non-effusive) form of FIP. Polyprenyl Immunostimulant is a biologic product that upregulates innate immunity in animals and has a potential to prevent and to control diseases in cases when vaccinations are ineffective, not available, or when vaccinations are not practically feasible. The product shows promise in improving well-being and probably survival in cats with the dry form of FIP. Future studies are needed to look at Polyprenyl Immunostimulant with and without antiviral treatments, and the mechanism of immune response in cats treated with it. Median survival time in the study of 58 cats was 49 days. One cat is still alive more than five years after the study was begun.
Dr. Pedersen spoke about the challenges of FIP research. There are four primary components of FIP research currently conducted at UC Davis:
- Study the genetics of the virus.
- Study the origins of the virus in shelter environments and how different shelter environments and practices may influence disease incidence.
- Screen human anti-viral compounds for cross-reactivity to the FIP virus.
- Determine genetic polymorphisms that may be associated with resistance and/or susceptibility to the disease.
He emphasized that researchers can’t find answers without the help of breeders of pedigreed cats. DNA samples from breeds with known FIP histories can help researchers pinpoint the location of genes that may be involved in the susceptibility to FIP and other diseases.
The bottom line? There is much research that still needs to be done. Research requires money, and cat health studies are notoriously underfunded. In his opening remarks, Steve Dale’s statement that “if FIP happened in the dog world, there would already be a cure” was met with loud applause from the audience.
How can you help? Educate yourself about the disease and raise awareness. It’s a devastating disease – both physically for the affected cats, and emotionally for the cats’ owners. But there are small glimmers of hope. Help keep that hope alive by contributing financially to organizations that fund FIP research.
Winn Feline Foundation is a non-profit organization established in 1968 that supports studies to improve cat health. If you have a cat, it has benefited from the work this foundation does.
The Bria Fund for FIP Research provides funding for FIP research. Bria was a nine month old Birman kitten who died from FIP in April, 2005. Bria had the good fortune to live with Susan Gingrich and her husband, James Shurskis, in Harrisburg, PA. Susan is a sister of Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and founder of the Center for Health Transformation. The Center provided a generous contribution to establish the Bria Fund.
SOCK FIP (Save Our Cats and Kittens from Feline Infectious Peritonitis) is a global consortium of cat lovers, breeders, rescue groups, veterinarians and geneticists who are working together to support research on feline infectious peritonitis at the UC Davis Center for Companion Animal Health (CCAH).
July 10, 2011 update: Thank you to Steve Dale for posting the complete audio from the symposium on his blog – to listen, click here.