Why is it that poor little kitties with feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) seem to be the sweetest souls on earth?
Some suggest it’s because these kitties somehow know their time here will be limited. Some say it’s because God chose only the sweetest of kittens to go to Heaven early. Those more pragmatic point out kitties sick with FIP don’t feel very well, and that is actually what the purring is all about. So much purring, in fact, that FIP was once called “the purring disease.”
FIP happens when a common and mostly benign virus, called the corona virus, has a mysterious response within the cat and transforms into an immune-mediated virus called FIP.
While anecdotally, some cats survive FIP, survival is so rare that the disease is considered fatal. It may also be hard to diagnose in the first place: Some cats with FIP are diagnosed appropriately, but others are diagnosed with FIP but don’t have the disease.
There are two forms of FIP: wet (effusive) and dry (non-effusive). Kitties with the wet form look like they have a beer belly, as their tummies are filled with a liquid, which can be tested to determine if the cat has FIP. The dry form is more insidious and is often difficult to diagnose.
For years, FIP was called rare. According to legendary researcher Dr. Niels Pedersen, professor emeritus, former director of the Center for Companion Animal Health at the University of California School of Veterinary Medicine-Davis notes that FIP kills an estimated 1 in 100 to 1 in 300 of all cats under 5 years old (though kittens are most often stricken). And the frequency can be up to 10 times greater among kittens from catteries (breeders) or shelters.
Much of what’s known today about FIP was discovered by Pedersen. And much of what we know about FIP has been funded by the nonprofit funder of cat health studies, the Winn Feline Foundation.
When Susan Gingrich lost of her little Birman kitten to the disease in 2005, she worked with the Winn Feline Foundation to launch the Bria Fund using dollars specifically targeted for FIP research. Due to the infusion of money and simultaneously increased technology to better understand FIP at a cellular level, researchers are closer than they have ever been to finding a solution. Because human severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is distantly related to FIP, there has been new interest in researching the disease, and Gingrich and her army have led a crusade to enhance awareness.
Despite the renewed interest, it is unknown why the enteric corona virus mutates into FIP in some cats while others (the majority) shake off the virus without any effects, living long and healthy lives.
The Bria Fund is determined to learn more about FIP and ultimately support research to find an effective treatment. That’s the dream of millions of cat lovers around the globe. Many of those cat lovers have contributed to Winn’s Bria Fund, but many more cat lovers have never heard of Winn. Spreading awareness is key to solving the mystery of this devastating disease.
One fundraiser and effort to do just that is called Mr. Swanson’s Day. The event takes place on April 9. Chris Cook of Atlanta, Georgia, describes her kitty, who succumbed to FIP at the age of 17 months in 2011, as, “The sweetest soul I ever met. He was my heart, my world.”
Mr. Swanson and his two sisters were little tiny balls of fur who were, for the most part, feral. “I didn’t even have Mr. Swanson for a year and a half before he began to show signs of illness,” recalls Cook. “After many tests and a second vet opinion, I finally got the diagnosis of FIP on January 9. It was the day I told Mr. Swanson goodbye and my world shattered. During that time I had a dream that Mr. Swanson was going away but I was to share his awesomeness with the world. It wasn’t until after his death, I realized what the dream meant.”
Copy and paste Mr. Swanson’s image and use it as your profile picture on Facebook on April 9. Also, please consider giving to the Winn Feline Foundation Bria Fund.
The time is now because we’re at a turning point with an excellent understanding of the disease process. So much has been discovered over the past couple of years. Gingrich says, “We’re so close, but still so far.”
Please help to spread the word, and, if you can, give to the Bria Fund.