Saving Shelter Cats with FIP: Innovative Treatment Strategies

A team of cat-loving volunteers is saving cats who would otherwise have no chance of survival.

Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), which most commonly affects cats under 2 years old and has increased risk in purebreds and shelters, has long been feared as one of the most deadly and untreatable diseases in cats.

Now, antiviral medications exist that cure FIP. Though those medications were kept off the market until recently by regulatory and patent barriers, underground social networks developed over the past few years to gather data, create protocols, and help tens of thousands of owners obtain the life-saving medications.

Austin Pets Alive! volunteers were among the very first to begin treating shelter cats for FIP as far back as 2019. They also host one of the largest adoption programs for cats with FeLV. The shelter has an ongoing collaboration with our research team at the Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida to compare the response to FIP treatment in shelter cats with and without FeLV co-infection.

Key Takeaways About Treating Shelter Cats for FIP

  • FIP thrives in stressful environments. Cats in shelters are at significantly increased risk due to widespread highly contagious enteric coronavirus, crowding, and the resulting stress.
  • Until recently, there were no viable treatments for FIP. Vets were limited to supportive care as the disease rapidly took its course.
  • Antiviral medications (notably GS) offer new hope. Until recently, medications approved in other countries could not be obtained through regulated sources in the US. Guidance from Facebook groups like FIP Warriors provided a pathway to obtaining life-saving medication. Now, veterinarians can prescribe GS in the US too.
  • Shelters can make a difference. Proactive stress management, foster care, and swiftly moving cats out of shelters and into adoptive homes can significantly decrease FIP development in shelter cats.

Understanding FIP: Causes, Symptoms, and Diagnosis

  • FIP arises from a mutation of the common feline enteric coronavirus.
  • There’s no single reliable test for FIP; diagnosis is based on testing panels and clinical signs.
  • Wet FIP causes fluid buildup in the thorax, abdomen, or pericardium and is usually fatal within weeks if untreated. Dry FIP can affect the eyes, brain, and other organs.

How the Austin Pets Alive! Treatment Program Works

  • Diagnosis relies on a combination of symptoms and laboratory values as determined by their veterinarians.
  • Treatment begins with a high dose of the GS antiviral medication (often injections, then transitioning to pills)
  • Regular bloodwork and exams monitor progress and ensure safe cessation of treatment after 12 weeks.
  • Success requires a team effort between the shelter, veterinarians, and dedicated foster homes. “The supportive care is key to their survival. So we cannot park these cats in foster homes and not support them,” volunteer FIP liaison Nicole Levy said. “They need to be in constant contact with us, especially early on.”

The Austin Pets Alive! – University of Florida Study Interim Results

Austin Pets Alive! is a pioneer in shelter-based FIP treatment. They’ve already treated over 250 cats. Their program is unique in that the majority of cats treated are also FeLV-positive. FeLV cats were previously considered untreatable for FIP.

  • Prospective Tracking: The team proactively follows treated cats, providing valuable insights into outcomes.
  • Real-World Data: Their study focuses on treating cats in a high-risk shelter environment with a large percentage of FeLV-positive cats, offering practical data for similar shelters.
  • Ongoing Improvements: Austin Pets Alive! continuously refines its FIP protocol for better outcomes and works to understand optimal dosing strategies.
  • High Success Rate: Even though the shelter treats many cats arriving in critical condition from other under-resourced shelters and includes treatment of FeLV-positive cats, a remarkable 75% survive the 6-month treatment and observation period.
  • FeLV-positive Cats Respond: Feline leukemia virus status does not appear to impact treatment response rates during the 6-month FIP treatment and observation period. However, even though FeLV-positive cats respond well to FIP treatment, they still experience the overall shorter survival times that have long been associated with FeLV infection.
  • Relapses are Rare: While they do occur, FIP relapses can usually be successfully managed with a second round of treatment.

Life-Saving Drugs Are Now Available for All Cats in the US

  • A breakthrough in access to FIP treatment occurred last month when Stokes Pharmacy began making GS tablets available for prescription in the US.
  • Veterinarians can now prescribe GS medication and keep medication on hand for emergency use in their clinics without concern about legal restraints.
  • Stokes Pharmacy has gathered an international team of FIP treatment veterinarians and researchers to develop information for cat owners and protocols and continuing education seminars for veterinarians.
  • Visit Stokes Pharmacy for treatment planning, ordering, and cost information

Resources for Shelters and Veterinarians

Webinar on the Austin Pets Alive! FIP Treatment Program and Study

  • Title: Crowdsourced Treatment for Cats with FIP
  • Presenters: Nicole Levy and Dr. Julie Levy
  • Length: 36 min + Q&A
  • Transcript
  • Slides 

FIP Information for Veterinarians

FIP Information for Cat Caregivers

Austin Pets Alive!