About a month ago I received an email from author Leslie Goodwin, asking me if I would be interested in reviewing a copy of her new book, CAT SKILLS: Loving Care for Cats. Of course I accepted and after I read the book and learned more about Leslie and her cats, I asked her if she would like to share with my readers her heartbreaking experience with Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP), a disease that I admit to knowing very little about. When her beautiful cat Maisie died of the deadly disease, Leslie wanted to make a difference when publishing the book she was writing. She wanted to help shelter animals and raise a significant donation to the Bria fund for FIP research. She came up with a unique plan to do both. Here are the details in her own words:
“Introducing the CAT SKILLS Challenge. My dream is to have my book in adoption packets in shelters all over the country. The second part of my dream is to make a sizeable donation to the Bria fund at the same time. Here’s how: A corporate sponsor or private philanthropist would purchase a large quantity of books taking advantage of the publishers quantity price, adding only a slight profit to include a donation of 20% of the total to FIP research and then distribute the books for free to shelters. If shelters could include the book in their cat adoption packets, I believe more cats will keep their forever homes and fewer will be punished, abandoned or returned for behavioral or health problems. This is a new, exciting way for sponsors or patrons to make a tax deductible donation, help fund research into a deadly disease and help cats at the same time. With or without a donation to FIP research, if anyone wants a large quantity of books shipped to their shelter of choice, I will gladly provide them at a greatly reduced price.”
Now I am honored to present "Maisie's Story". Hopefully it will be useful to anyone trying to diagnose a cat or for anyone looking for support going through this illness and for everyone to know that many people are working to cure this disease.
Maisie's Story: FIP Angel
When I met Maisie, I had just lost one of my old cats, Lucy, and the other one was fading fast. I was numb and exhausted from running a cat hospice. I went to the humane society to sign up as a volunteer to deal with my grief. I had seen a young kitty on their website who looked a lot like Lucy. Naturally I was curious! She had strayed in during the 100 year flood... possibly made homeless because of it.
When I picked up the little waif, she climbed my shoulder and clung on with a death grip. Her neck was wobbly, she had diarrhea and she felt feverish. She had been spayed a few days before. I wasn’t ready for a new one with my old fur buddy dying at home. But I told the volunteer, “This is my cat.”
When I came back to adopt her, little Maisie was deathly ill in the shelter clinic with a fever of 106. They gave her subQ fluids. When her fever subsided, they released her to me.
Maisie was still clinging her first night home..she wouldn't even let go for a photo!
She seemed happy and healthy but two days later she started vomiting, ran a fever and we ended up in the ER. They sent us home with no diagnosis.
Fecal tests showed Giardia. The meds I gave her to cure Giardia made her anorexic. I started to force feed her just to keep her alive. Blood tests were inconclusive but pointed to liver disease. Maybe hepatitis. Finally, with a new antibiotic, she started to eat on her own. Hope at last! I gave her antibiotics for a full six weeks.
Mais started a slow recovery. Still, something was missing. What she needed was a sister! When I adopted Millie, she was like a well- timed shot of adrenalin for both of us. With Millie to love, Maisie blossomed into perky, normal kitten. Living with them was pure happiness. Every morning, Mais scooted under the bed covers to snuggle and after breakfast, she climbed to my shoulder for a talk. For six months, she chased and wrestled and cuddled with Millie, ate heartily and gained three pounds. I was overjoyed at my new cat family. Meanwhile, Maisie's immune system was fighting a virus turned deadly...and losing.
Six months later, just weeks after writing the first draft of CAT SKILLS, Maisie stopped eating and languished again with a high fever. This time, blood tests revealed the tell-tale signs of an incurable disease--Feline Infectious Peritonitis. She was only 15 months old and she would be dead thirteen days later.
There are two kinds of F.I.P.: wet and dry. Dry F.I.P., with no abdominal effusion present, is one of the most misdiagnosed and mysterious of all cat diseases, often only being confirmed post-mortem.
Dry F.I.P. (Maisie's type) is hardest to diagnose and can be slower to develop. Wet FIP is more obvious; the cat develops a huge belly filled with fluid. Both types are caused by a mutation of the Feline Enteric Coronavirus. Victims are almost exclusively under two or over ten years old. They rarely live more than a few months after symptoms appear. There is no effective vaccine. There are no simple diagnostic tests. There is no effective treatment or cure. FIP kills one in 100 to one in 300 of all cats under five years old (mostly kittens). And the incidence can be up to ten times greater among kittens from catteries(breeders) or shelters for reasons I explain in FIP Myths and Mysteries.
FIP is often misdiagnosed or un-diagnosed. Diagnosing FIP can be difficult as there are several other possible diagnoses -- especially for the wet type. But CBC blood tests can show the obvious markers of FIP: High total protein, a low a/g ratio, (high globulin), anemia, lymphopenia and sometimes elevated neutrophils. These are the red flags for FIP.
Symptoms are: Fever which doesn't respond to antibiotics, anorexia, diarrhea, lethargy and weight loss and/or abdominal swelling (in the case of the wet type.) Abdominal ultrasounds and cytology tests (analyzing cells) of the abdominal fluids are diagnostic as well. The abdominal fluid (wet type) will be a yellow straw color and appear fibrous. There is a simple test of the abdominal fluid called the Rivalta test which can be done in the vet's office in minutes and costs virtually nothing...but only for testing the abdominal fluids in wet FIP. A Youtube video explains how to do it. This is only a quick overview of the most common diagnostic tests. Please check the links in the bibliography to find out more.
In hindsight, I can only assume that Maisie was fighting the disease when I first brought her home. But she didn't show the classic signs in her blood work so how were we to know? Was the virus just starting to mutate then? This is one of the mysteries of FIP...the process by which the usually benign corona virus mutates into the deadly form.
During the dreadful, complicated diagnostic process, I sought help from the Yahoo F.I.P. support group. The moderators, who also lost kittens to FIP, continue to support others fighting the same losing battle. One of them founded a research fund named after her FIP angel kitten: The Bria Fund. They inspired me to join them.
I believe that Maisie came into my life--even for such a short time--for a good reason. I decided to donate some of the proceeds of my book sales to fund research to cure this killer of kittens. I hope that my book will be a part in finding a cure.
PS: Millie is alive and well and teaching her new fur sister the fine art of mutual grooming, recreational wrestling and spooning at nap time. ©2014 by Leslie Goodwin, author of CAT SKILLS: Loving Care for Cats.
Millie and Maisie...BFFs forever.
*** Stay tuned tomorrow for Part 2 of Leslie's story, including FIP Myths and Mysteries and a bibliography with links where you can find additional information. I will also be posting my review of CAT SKILLS: Loving Care for Cats and we will be giving away a paperback copy of the book to one lucky winner. ***