There may be hope yet in the fight against feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), a viral disease in young cats that is almost always fatal.
In a paper published in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers from Kansas State University (KSU) describe their success with an antiviral treatment for FIP that blocks the virus from replicating and halts the progression of the disease.
Cats that received the treatment dodged a near-certain death sentence and returned to normal post-treatment.
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FIP occurs in young cats (typically 3 or fewer years old) and is caused by particular strains of an illness called feline coronavirus. While most types of feline coronavirus are relatively harmless, and indeed common, infections – causing mild intestinal inflammation, if any symptoms at all - a small percentage of them progress through mutation into FIP.
Once the virus becomes FIP, the most common result is a "wet" form of the disease, resulting in fluid buildup in the abdomen, fever, jaundice and weight loss. The condition is tricky to diagnose and often the symptoms seem to arise out of nowhere, because cats are excellent maskers of how bad they're feeling.
There is no cure for FIP, and once these latter symptoms appear death follows in a matter of weeks to months.
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Until now, the researchers say, it was not clear whether an antiviral by itself could reverse FIP's deadly progress. But their new treatment, they say, has done just that.
"This is the first time we showed experimental evidence of successful treatment of laboratory cats at an advanced clinical stage of FIP," said study lead Yunjeong Kim, an associate professor in KSU's diagnostic medicine and pathobiology department.
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"We found that antiviral treatment led to full recovery of cats when treatment was started at a stage of disease that would be otherwise fatal if left untreated," the scientists wrote.
Cats in the study made full recoveries and were back to their old selves within 20 days of receiving the antiviral treatment.
The team's results came from cats whose FIP had been experimentally induced in a laboratory setting, so Kim said the next step will be to test the efficacy of the antiviral in cats that had come by their FIP naturally.