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Treatment Stops Deadly Cat Virus

There may be hope yet in the fight against feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), a viral disease in young cats that is almost always fatal.

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.

There's a new addition to Smithsonian National Zoo's Small Mammal House: a female sand cat named Lulu. She was brought in as a mate for the resident male Thor. The hope is that kittens will soon follow. Let's learn a bit about sand cats, starting with what they are, and then find out how the two are getting along.

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Here Thor says "Hello" in sand cat. As their name implies, sand cats live in deserts and are the only cats to live primarily in such environments. They live in deserts of Central and Southwest Asia, as well as those of North Africa. They're well suited to the hot and cold swings of temperature in the desert and will burrow into the sand to keep cool. Smithsonian researchers say they're tough animals to study, in part because their presence is hard to spot. They have fur on their foot pads and leave barely a trace in the desert sand.

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Here's Lulu striking a pose. (Hint; you can tell it's her from her oval-shaped face, compared to Thor, whose mug is a bit more horizontally inclined.) Early reports are that Lulu has already established herself as the more dominant and feisty of the two, while Thor is outgoing with zoo staff and is happy to try his best in training sessions.

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The cute cats are very active early in the morning, scooting around their enclosure and playing with their toys. Catch them at noon, though, and they're likely to be napping.

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Zoo staff say they help the cats keep up with their natural behaviors by hiding some of their food in puzzle feeders, as shown here. It keeps them busy remembering how to claw and dig at things to get a meal.

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If the stylish pair produces kittens, it will be the first experience of parenthood for either cat. Their introduction went "incredibly well," according to zoo staff. So there may well be babies in the offing! In fact, the zoo has recently separated Lulu from Thor, while veterinarians determine whether or not she is indeed pregnant. Thor's presence, say staff, could stress out Lulu if she's going to have kittens. Every little new kitten helps the species, too. Sand cats are currently listed as "Near Threatened" on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's "red list" of threatened species.

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