Mochi’s FIP Journey: The Battle Against a Deadly Disease
There are a lot of F-words in the cat world: FIV, FeLV, FIC – but the one that makes our stomachs turn inside out, heart drop, and tears fall is FIP.
FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitis) strikes without warning. There is no test to screen for it. There is no vaccine. It is very tricky to diagnose. It usually affects teenage kittens and young cats. Worst of all, it is 100% fatal – at least, it used to be.
For all of FieldHaven’s eighteen years, I think those three letters caused the most alarm. It is horrible enough to have a kitten in our care receive that dreaded diagnosis, but when it happens to a young cat or kitten that has been adopted into a loving home, the pain is sharp and even more heartbreaking.
How do you explain to an adopter that we had no way of foreseeing the dreadful disease their kitty now has? That their beloved kitten has no hope of survival? How do you help to mend their broken heart? Our broken hearts?
A very long story, 50 years in the making, now a veterinarian has found a treatment that can cure FIP. A doctor right down the road from us at UC Davis, Dr. Niels Pedersen pulled off the miracle that veterinarians worldwide had been searching for decades to develop.
This should be the beginning of the story with the miracle cure saving kitties across the globe. This should be a win for modern medicine and a saving grace for countless cat and kitten parents…
…but enter the politics of big pharma to dash our happily-ever-after story. The drug Dr. Pedersen found to be effective in treating FIP is a close relative of Remdesivir, originally tested for treating Ebola, now used to treat COVID-19.
If you want to read the whole story of GS-441524, the code name for the drug, click here.
The result of the “long story” is that GS-441524, the treatment for a cure to FIP is inaccessible. The drug manufacturer will not release the drug.
However, when Dr. Pedersen published the results of his testing black market drug manufacturers from China contacted him. They had the formulation for GS-441524 and could provide it. Not surprisingly, it is very expensive to purchase in the United States.
In the two years since then, what has emerged is an underground railroad of sorts for black market drugs. I never envisioned myself playing a part in helping an adopter administer these black market drugs to her cat, but there I was a Saturday night, looking at an unmarked vial of a clear liquid that was nested with several other vials in an LG cell phone box. The code name for this batch of GS-44154 is “Oscar.” As I started to pull the thick liquid into the syringe, I felt a flash of nervousness which quickly was replaced by a sense of – oh, how do I describe it? I was holding between my fingers something so precious that could be the antidote to the thousands of tears I had shed over the years. The helplessness of not being able to save my own little Levi who succumbed to FIP many years ago. The grief I shared with the mother who unleashed her maternal anger on me when the kitten they had just adopted for their four-year-old daughter died of FIP. That little girl had just survived brain surgery and all she wanted was a kitten to help her heal. The emotions as I held that syringe and vial in my hand were surreal.
I turned to Mochi and while his mom, Joy (yes, he was held by two Joys!) cradled his face. I cautiously injected this more-valuable-than-gold liquid beneath his skin. He cried for a moment as he felt the sting of Oscar. We were warned that it would sting. Fortunately, it was brief as Mochi was quickly diverted by a chicken treat.
This all started that Saturday morning when a FieldHaven volunteer alerted me that she had received a text from Joy. She was at her veterinarian with Mochi. He had just been diagnosed with FIP. Joy was reeling with grief. Mochi was her healing cat. It was a gut punch. On top of the COVID year, she lost her beloved Xander after a long battle to save his life. Right after that loss, she was diagnosed with cancer. She met Mochi at FieldHaven and knew he was the one to help her heal through her cancer treatments.
What followed was a flurry of texts, messages, and phone calls between a network of devoted people made up of FIP experts, online coordinators, FIP parents, and supporters. We learned it is important to start treatment as soon as possible. By 6:00 PM that night, Joy had that precious LG box holding those unmarked vials that could mean saving Mochi.
That’s how I found myself at Joy’s house at 7:00 PM on Saturday night.
On Sunday morning, Joy texted me pictures of Mochi. She really felt he had some improvement.
Sunday evening, I went back to give him his daily injection at exactly 7:00 PM. He looked better and more alert. This time Joy distracted Mochi with treats while I injected. Easy! Two daily doses down, eighty-two to go!
Monday morning, Joy sent me a photo of Mochi balanced on the back of an office chair, making biscuits. He was jumping from the couch to the cat tree and grooming vigorously. Just thirty six hours into the treatment, he was showing marked improvement.
After a visit to his veterinarian, where his doctor found no additional abdominal fluid buildup and his temperature normal, Joy was ready to take on doing the injections herself with her son Jake’s help. The veterinarian was “cautiously optimistic.” We’ll take that.
On Tuesday morning, Joy reported that Mochi had lost about an inch from his abdomen in 24 hours. That means the fluid buildup was decreasing! He was running “full banshee style” through the house, leaping after toys.
“Thank God! I really believe it’s working!” Joy texted me.
Wednesday morning, I received another video of him playing just like a kitten.
Thursday, he’s now attacking the scratching post. Gotta sharpen those claws to kill those toy mice!
Mochi is only on day six of his eighty four-day regime. He still needs lots of prayers, skilled veterinary care, the love and dedication of his family, plus Oscar, his black-market drugs in an unmarked vial in a cell phone box.
You have fifty years of research pulling for you, Mochi. Keep up the good work.