Our new kitten, Luna, joined our family on March 24, 2017. From the minute I met her breeder in Boston, our lives changed, as she was everything we’d hoped for in a Savannah cat–energetic, playful, and quite the social butterﬂy. Everything about our girl was perfect, and we looked forward to taking her with us on our camping, hiking, and backpacking adventures.
On April 13, 2017, I took Luna for vaccines and an exam. I mentioned that Luna’s belly seemed slightly bloated, but the vet reassured me it was a “normal kitten belly.” Her only concern was a grade III heart murmur, and she suggested a cardiology consult if still present by her next checkup. That afternoon, Luna seemed tired, didn’t want to eat, and felt warm. As the week progressed, she wasn’t herself; she became even more lethargic, her abdomen distended more, and her fur reminded me of a porcupine.
On April 21, 2017, we took her to the emergency clinic. I had done some research during the week about abdominal distention in cats and read about Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) and a few other causes. The ER vet took Luna to the back and returned immediately with a tube of ﬂuid she’d removed from her abdomen. She explained what this ﬁbrous, straw-colored ﬂuid meant and gave us the grim prognosis of 1-2 weeks at best. We were ﬂoored and had never even heard of FIP until this week. She suggested we consult with an internist to discuss life-prolonging options. In the meantime, she prescribed Prednisone to help with inﬂammation and appetite.
I spent the next 24 hours researching FIP and calling or emailing every large veterinary college I could ﬁnd. They had nothing to offer–until the last call I received. Michael Bannasch from UC Davis in California, assistant to Dr. Niels Pedersen, had positive news. Dr. Pedersen, is a veterinarian, professor, and researcher, who’s worked on a cure for FIP since the 1960s. Michael said they’d received an antiviral drug from a pharmaceutical company for trial, but it was pending approval by the university. We discussed Luna’s grave condition, and I sent them her records. I received another call on April 24, requesting that we come to Sacramento as soon as possible! We also went ahead and saw the internist that day for an echocardiogram, x-rays, and an ultrasound that set her diagnosis in stone. He also prescribed Feline Omega Interferon to see if that might buy Luna more time. He was skeptical about the drug trial but said to keep him informed.
We made the necessary job, trip, and ﬁnancial arrangements and arrived in Sacramento on April 28th 2017. Dr. Pedersen and the team met us in the lobby, eager to get this trial underway. It felt like we’d won the lottery by being part of what could change veterinary history. With no time to waste, Dr. Pedersen drew diagrams on a whiteboard explaining how the drug worked at the cellular level, which I understood because of my medical background. I felt intrigued and cautiously optimistic as we moved to the treatment room, where Luna would stay for 5-10 days–if she survived. Dr. Pedersen’s exact words to us were, “this is a trial, not a treatment.” We discussed the conﬁdential nature of the trial and to what degree we could share the experience. I had permission to blog about the trial as it pertained to Luna’s response and progress. I didn’t want to forget a single detail of this uncertain yet exciting experience.
After Luna’s exam, she received her ﬁrst injection. She cried brieﬂy and acted as if she were in shock. It was clear that this medicine was quite painful, which was hard for us to watch. Dr. Pedersen told us to go and explore, relax, and return in the morning for a brief visit. He wanted Luna to rest quietly without distractions. It was so hard to leave our tiny 14-week-old kitten alone, but we knew this was her one and only chance at life. We’d brought her favorite blanket and bed from home so she’d have something familiar.
Luna responded extremely fast to the trial drug! Dr. Elizabeth Montgomery, who assisted Dr. Pedersen with Luna’s care, notiﬁed us that evening that Luna’s fever had gone down! The following day, we visited and saw a drastic improvement in her fever and demeanor. Each day, she showed more and more progress, including a reduction in abdominal distention. Luna was discharged on day six, as planned.
I administered the drug for 11 more weeks while communicating with Dr. Pedersen regarding weight and temperature changes, appetite, and activity levels. He gave me dosage changes based on lab ﬁndings and weight gain. He also collaborated with our vet, which included an unexpected spay surgery before ending the treatment due to the early onset of estrus, which caused increased stress.
GS441524 is the second drug trial to be trialed since 2016 UC Davis for FIP. The ﬁrst drug, GC376, cured ﬁve out of 20 cats. EVO984/GS441524 cured 26 cats.
A Hopeful Future For FIP Cats
Luna’s last injection of EVO984/GS441524 was on July 23, 2017, making her the ﬁrst privately owned, naturally acquired FIP-infected cured cat. She’s now six years old, free from side effects
or other health issues, and her lab values remain normal. Luna enjoys cat life with her other Savannah buddies, Titan, Calypso, Phoebe, and Ares.
We’re forever grateful to Dr. Niels Pedersen and his research team, UD Davis, the Bria Fund, and The Winn Feline Foundation (Every Cat Health Foundation). They made it possible for Luna and 25 other cats–most of whom are still thriving, to live.
We appreciate Gilead Sciences for providing the drug for the trial but are very disappointed with their ultimate refusal to pursue FDA approval for veterinary use. To deny other cat owners the legal opportunity to save their cats is something I’ll never comprehend.
Please consider donating to the EveryCat Health Foundation (select the Bria Fund). Your donation will help fund new trials so that one day we might have effective, legal medications for treating FIP, giving all cats a chance to beat this lethal scourge once and for all–just like Luna!
Debra Roberts is registered nurse with 30+ years in Labor and Delivery. She is the owner/editor of a quarterly Savannah Cat e-magazine, SAVANNAHGANS®, and an avid blogger. She and her husband, Jamison, stay busy with their five Savannah Cats. In her free time she enjoys running, hiking, traveling and time spent with her adult children and soon-to-be six grandchildren.