The 2019 FIP Symposium: PURRsuing FIP and WINNing might be the most significant event in feline health ever! That’s a mighty powerful statement to make, but it’s likely true. Here’s why that’s so, for me and for many other cat lovers.
A Devastating Day
I recall the exact moment when Dr. Sheldon Rubin called to tell me that Ringo, our new kitty, likely had feline infectious peritonitis, or FIP.
I was stunned. “How can this happen to me?” We had only recently lost a cat, Ricky, to heart disease (feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy). Ricky and I were incredibly bonded. At the time Ricky was a celebrity for his piano-playing prowess, among various other behaviors. Ricky made many national TV appearances.
When Ricky died suddenly, I was inspired to launch the Ricky Fund with the nonprofit Winn Feline Foundation to raise money to support funding for studies of heart disease in cats.
It took many months for my wife Robin and I to feel we were emotionally ready to get another cat. Ringo had been in our home for only three months when he was diagnosed with FIP.
A Dreaded Diagnosis
Desperate to save our “baby,” we were willing to do anything. We tried L-lysine. A veterinary researcher thought this supplement – typically used for cats with feline herpesvirus – would support cats with FIP, which is also a virus. It didn’t help a bit.
Ringo lived for only a few more weeks. FIP mostly happens to kittens, making this disease – which has always been considered fatal – painful to endure.
FIP occurs when cats are exposed to the feline coronavirus. In cats, this highly contagious virus is typically benign. The cats have no signs, or maybe slight tummy upset for a day or two. Still, kitties with coronavirus require almost zero veterinary care, and the virus disappears quickly. However, in a small percentage of kittens, the virus mutates, transforming into the deadly immune-mediated disease known as FIP.
The FIP Fight
In 2005, Susan Gingrich came to the Winn Feline Foundation following the death of her kitten, Bria, from FIP. While Winn Feline was for many years the primary fundraiser for FIP studies, the Bria Fund was launched to draw needed dollars and boost exposure about the illness.
Gingrich and a legion of FIP fighters from around the globe have worked hard to support funding. Among those also working to raise dollars is a group called Zen by Cat. Along the way, legendary FIP researcher Niels Pedersen, DVM, of the University of California-Davis, began his own FIP support system called SOCK FIP.
Gingrich, who served for a time on the Winn board, would sometimes say, “FIP will never be cured in my lifetime.”
Yet, year after year, Winn persevered, funding investigators including Pedersen, who once said, “I don’t feel I can retire until I’ve pushed open the door to FIP at least a little bit.”
Today, there are medications (not yet approved for the U.S.) that are curing kittens. Though the medications aren’t perfect, Pedersen says, “We’ve opened the door to knowledge, and it’s not just open a crack, we’ve kicked it open.”
It’s likely that no researcher on the planet knows more about FIP, which is no small declaration. FIP is a complicated disease. But finally, in 2019, FIP is well understood. Pedersen will kick off the FIP Symposium this week, speaking on two panels.
It’s one of the great honors of my life that with Vicki Thayer, DVM, co-chair of the Winn education committee, we have organized the largest ever gathering of experts on FIP. Investigators are traveling from around the world to participate in PURRsuing FIP and WINNing at the University of California-Davis, November 16-17.
The symposium has attracted worldwide attention, from the American Association of Feline Practitioners to the World Small Animal Veterinary Association. Veterinary professionals and veterinary students can attend for continuing education credit. Cat breeders and cat lovers are welcome. The fee to attend is far lower than for typical events of this kind. Those who can’t attend in person can watch in real time on computer or phone via a live stream. Learn more about attending in person or virtually here.
Rather than talking heads lecturing, the event will consist primarily of roundtable discussions. The intent is for experts to reach consensus of some type for each roundtable.
Topics will include the following:
- Why there is arguably more FIP occurring now than in the past
- The possible association of increased fostering of kittens with more reports of FIP
- The efficacy of the drugs GS-441524 and GC376 and most common adverse effects.
- The likely timetable for potential FDA drug approval
- The likely cost of drugs to treat FIP in the U.S.
- How GS-441524 and GC376 are being purchased online from China, and their effectiveness. Is it worth the cost to purchase online from China? What is the safety profile of drugs from China? What is the risk of these drugs being counterfeit?
- Will there ever be a vaccination for FIP?
- Can certain types of cat litters lessen the chances of transmission?
- Are there any other viable treatment options for FIP? What is the efficacy of other treatments?
- What can cat breeders do to lessen the odds or even avoid FIP?
- Does FIP continue to be misdiagnosed? If so, how can veterinary professionals do a better job?
- What are the best first steps to take if a cat is diagnosed with FIP?
- What is the latest thinking regarding a possible genetic predisposition? If so, is this a genetic issue based on breed, a family genetic issue, or potentially both?
Geneticist and the individual responsible for nearly all we know about the feline genome, Leslie Lyons, Ph.D., professor of comparative medicine at the Department of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery at the University of Missouri, representing World Small Animal Veterinary Association.
Feline practitioner Elizabeth Colleran, DVM, representing the American Association of Feline Practitioners.
Feline practitioner and current president of the Winn Feline Foundation board Drew Weigner, DVM.
Board member and former Winn president Vicki Thayer, DVM.
Aly Miller, a co-producer and actor in the short award-winning film Aeris, about a kitty with FIP, will speak, and all in-person attendees will receive a copy of the movie.
Pedersen told me that after decades of chasing FIP, this event will mark the turnaround, which will forever be remembered. You can be a part of history.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.
Steve Dale, CABC (certified animal behavior consultant), hosts two national pet radio shows and is on WGN Radio, Chicago. He’s a regular contributor/columnist for many publications, including CATSTER, Veterinary Practice News, and the Journal of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America. He’s appeared on dozens of TV shows, including Oprah, many Animal Planet Programs, and National Geographic Explorer. He has contributed to or authored many pet books and veterinary textbooks such as “The Cat: Clinical Medicine and Management” and co-edited Decoding Your Dog, by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. He speaks at conferences around the world. www.stevedale.tv.
Published November 4, 2019