Questions Answered: Catnip on a Plane; New Drug Can Help FIP Cats; Lyme is a Huge Threat


Q: We’ll be traveling to the Miami area by plane to see relatives for Thanksgiving. My daughters are both cat crazy, so we bought some really potent catnip at a local cat show and would like to take it to them. We’ve been storing it in the freezer. What happens when we go through airport security? Will the TSA allow us to travel with catnip? — S.C., Bloomfield Hills, MI

A: Catnip is not listed on the TSA website as a banned substance. Still, to make sure I contacted the U.S. Transportation Security Administration directly. A spokesperson there didn’t want to give her name (a security issue, I suppose). She did tell me it’s perfectly legal to travel with catnip. She did concede, though, that some of her TSA colleagues or private airport security personnel might not be so enlightened.

To maintain potency, you’re right to keep the catnip in the freezer. If a TSA official stops and sniffs, then begins to cry out, roll and scratch, I’d agree that your stuff is mighty powerful! Seriously, though, packing the catnip inside checked luggage or mailing it ahead of your visit is probably your best bet to avoid a potential hassle.


Q: I follow your work and know you’re an advocate for helping cats with FIP. Can you tell me about new drug for FIP? And there’s another drug I read a press release about on Facebook. Do either of these drugs help? — V.S., Cyberspace

A: The U.S. Department of Agriculture just approved a conditional license to Sass and Sass, Inc. to distribute Polyprenyl Immunostimulant (PI) to reduce clinical signs of rhinotracheitis in cats. Approval of this drug is significant, for starters, because feline rhinotracheitis, a common respiratory or pulmonary infection caused by the herpes virus, can potentially lead to blindness or even death. So, this is very good news.

And, as you note, the news gets better. A funny thing happened on the way to drug approval. As he was studying the drug for its intended purpose to control symptoms of rhinotracheitis, Dr. Al Legendre, professor of medicine in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Tennessee-Knoxville, began to study the same drug’s use in cats with a fatal immune-mediated disease called feline infectious peritonitis (FIP).

There are two types of FIP, and while PI has no impact on the lethal course of wet (effusive) FIP, the drug shows promise for treating dry (non-effusive) FIP.

Sass and Sass and the Winn Feline Foundation Bria Fund (to support FIP research) quickly funded further studies. The results have been mixed, but at least there’s some hope. Many cats with dry FIP seemed to feel better while taking PI, before ultimately crashing and dying, and apparently enjoyed an improved quality of life before the inevitable. Other cats in the study returned to their previous vigor after treatment with PI and are living well past a year (far longer than cats with dry FIP typically survive).

Legendre says, “This is not the final answer to treatment of FIP, but perhaps a step in the right direction. An antiviral treatment in conjunction with Polyprenyl Immunostimulant should improve clinical outcome.” Legendre is continuing his work.

Meanwhile, Dr. Eric Hurwit, of South Glastonbury, CT is touting his success in one cat diagnosed with FIP with a Lymphocyte T-Cell Immunomodulator (LTCI), the only USDA-approved product available for the treatment of the Feline Leukemia and Feline Immunodeficiency viruses. This is ‘the other’ drug you refer to in the question. While the cat is apparently thriving, other cats have been given the same drug without success.

Unlike Legendre’s study, Hurwit’s work has not been published or presented to veterinary colleagues. Certainly, more study is required when it comes to LTCI, as well as PI.

PI’s label offers details on use for cats with rhinotracheitis. Veterinarians can now also prescribe PI off-label as a treatment for cats with dry FIP. Veterinarians can contact Legendre for details on use for cats with dry FIP.  Learn more about the drug through Sass & Sass.


Q: My veterinarian suggested my Labrador, who’s outdoors hunting a lot, be vaccinated for Lyme disease. We’ve never done this and we don’t live in New England. Also, it’s getting cold here, and don’t think ticks are out to spread the disease. What do you think? — D.R., Clearwater, MN

A: “We do recommend vaccination (for Lyme disease) in endemic areas,” says Dr. Christopher Carpenter, executive director of the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC). “Ultimately, CAPC believes your own veterinarian knows best about what’s going on where you live. It seems we’re in agreement, though. The fact is that in most of Minnesota the prevalence area for Lyme disease is endemic. Lyme disease extends far beyond New England.”

As with all tick-borne diseases, it seems the prevalence of Lyme disease is widening compared to where disease existed even a few years ago. A burgeoning wildlife population plays a role (particularly where there are many deer), as does urban sprawl, which is moving us closer to wildlife. Weather may also play a role. And keep in mind that big cities aren’t immune to tick diseases. For years now, as people take their dogs for woodsy weekend escapes, they return with unintended passengers who fall off in city parks and reproduce.

Carpenter also explains that Lyme disease is transmitted by deer ticks somewhat differently to dogs than it is to people. It’s the nymph stage ticks who typically put the bite on people, while adult deer ticks are the most notorious culprits for dogs. The nymph stage is most active in the spring and summer; but dogs are most susceptible to ravenous adult ticks in fall and into the winter.

Of course, the threat to dogs (and people) isn’t solely from deer ticks. There are many tick species and they can all have their own life cycles and transmit disease (sometimes a wicked cocktail of several diseases all at once). Therefore, CAPC suggests year-round protection from ticks.

“It’s rare, but Lyme disease can cause Lyme nephritis (a potentially fatal inflammation of the kidney),” says Carpenter. “Certainly, Lyme can cause chronic pain and other problems which medications might be required for a lifetime. If you live where ticks are endemic, I don’t see how the vaccine (for Lyme disease) wouldn’t be very strongly considered, especially for dogs who spend a lot of time outdoors.”

Learn more at the Companion Animal Parasite Council.

©Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services