Lost the FIP Battle: 09/28/14
Akiko was the sweetest little angel. She was a “perma-kitten” or an underdeveloped little cat, but she overcame the odds and was the sweetest little girl. I miss her terribly, but I know she is now with Runt, her very best friend.
Visitors to my house never met Akiko. At most, she was a black and brown flash that raced by on her way to hide in my bedroom. And I was fine with that. I knew Akiko as the sweetest, most loving little cat who just had a panic disorder. She never lashed out in fear, even at the vet, she just clung for dear life to the shirt of the vet-tech carting her off for a weight or temperature check. She wasn’t afraid of people, she was afraid of everything. But when the house was quiet, you could find her snuggled up with me, purring and smurgling at my leg or a blanket. When she was tiny, she would smurgle with one paw while she eagerly suckled on her other paw, much the way a young child sucks their thumb.
Like Runt and Mika, Akiko came back to California with me from Japan. She came into the Yokosuka shelter in December with a littler of feisty, downright viscous little kittens that had been fostered by a woman out in Ikego. I was set to leave the country within a day or two and all of my possessions had been shipped off already, so I slept in a hotel and spent my days at the shelter. A Board Member myself, the other Board Members wanted my opinion on the litter. Just walking into the kitten room they all dove for cover rather than walk up for a cuddle. It was obvious right away that the foster mom of this litter had put the kittens in a crate and never gave them any human affection. We discussed options while we tried to lure them out with toys and treats, and I quickly noticed that one kitten was abnormally small. She must have been 1/3 the size of the others. I swooped her up without giving it a second thought and started checking her to make sure she was OK. Unlike her siblings, she clung to me.
I’ve raised an underdeveloped kitten once before. His name was Figaro and his rib cage was soft, concaving with each wheezy breath. I learned with him that the only thing to be done is make them comfortable – lots of food, warmth, and love. Figaro was amazing and a true fighter. He clung to life for a year-and-a-half. One night, tucked in his heated little bed, he just didn’t wake up. I explained his story to the others at the shelter and told them what they might expect with this tiny little tortoiseshell kitten staring up at me with her huge green eyes. She may never be strong enough to be spayed, which would mean she couldn’t leave the country without a breeders’ permit.
My flight home was delayed and I spent a month living out of my suitcase and spent all of my time at the shelter. When I was doing paperwork on the computer, I would tuck this little kitten into the collar of my jacket and let her sleep against the warmth of my body and the pulse through my neck. I thought the more exposure to people, the better her chances would be. Everyone who came into the shelter got to meet her and hear her story as I hoped to find someone compassionate enough to adopt her. I called her “Akiko Chan” (晶子ちゃん or あきこちゃん), which means “Little Sparkling One” because I knew her to be a diamond in the rough. This was before the days of Internet cat stardom, like Lil Bub, which have made a special place in the hearts of Americans for cats that aren’t “perfect.”
I already had 2 cats ready to go back to California with me, and two was the limit for the airlines, so as fond as I was of Akiko, I knew I needed to get her into the heart of someone else. Little did I know that my co-volunteers where busy going behind my back to find a way to get a third cat on the flight home with me. And they succeeded.
Barely old enough to fly, and too young to be spayed, Akiko could go as my carry-on item in a tiny little carrier that had to fit under the seat in front of me. As my new flight date approached in January, I was presented with an adoption certificate and all of the paperwork necessary to take Akiko with me. But no collar or harness would fit her to hold her plastic rabies tag, so I worked late into the night in my hotel room and made a little matching set for her out of an old leash from the shelter.
Getting Mika and Runt checked in for the flight was a surprisingly pleasant experience. I was greeted in animal quarantine by uniformed attendants in little caps and white gloves who lovingly inspected my cats and their carriers before locking them up and escorting them to the plane. Each cat had it’s own “bellhop” to carry them away. But I was left with Akiko and my broken Japanese. She passed inspection, melting the hearts of the three inspectors in quarantine services, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Being so tiny, I wasn’t sure they’d believe she was old enough to fly, even with all of the vet paperwork. It helped that she had vet inspection records from the date she was found, which was over 8 weeks ago, and the vet forms were in Japanese.
Then we encountered the x-ray machine. I hadn’t researched how to handle that – did I put my kitten on the conveyor belt in her carrier? I didn’t think it was safe, so in my best Japanese I said “That is not OK. This is a baby cat.” I held my ground and repeated it multiple times hoping to get my point across. Several security agents were now around me as I refused to put Akiko on the conveyor belt. Finally, a young female security agent came over with a few words of English. I just said “kitten” and saw her process the word. With a flash of realization, she had me carry her through the metal detector, then asked to open the case for inspection. I’ve never seen a security officer turn to a puddle of sappy mush so fast in my life! Akiko was terrified and curled up a small as she could get. A little ball of fur with brilliant green eyes. While I held Akiko, security went through her carrier with swabs and dismantled her bedding. We were cleared to proceed.
Akiko had an uneventful flight and never made a sound. The same can’t be said for Mika and Runt who were (in my opinion) cruelly handled at LAX. Upon arrival, their carriers were duct-taped to plywood and they were sent through the freight conveyor system, surfing down the luggage ramp with the golf clubs and other over-sized items. I was fit to be tied I was so mad.
When I brought Akiko home, I didn’t expect much. In fact, I had mentally prepared myself that she would only live a couple of years. Runt took to her like he did to all of my foster kittens, and any time Akiko was out in the open, Runt was by her side. When I lost Runt to Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) at only 3 years old, Akiko and I were both devastated. She went into a depression and started refusing to come out and eat. My vet prescribed a very tiny dose of Valium to get her through. I never thought I would be that person, giving a cat Valium, but it did the trick.
A year later, a new cat showed up on my porch. Young, but dirty and dehydrated, I started giving him water but refused to be a ‘soup kitchen’ for other peoples’ cats. He was a polydactyl on all 4 paws, which fascinated me, and as he continued to come and ask for water, I knew he didn’t have a home and soon brought Sumasaki into our lives. Akiko quickly took to him as a guardian, much the way she looked to Runt for love and safety. She followed Sumasaki out of the bedroom at meal times and trusted him that the coast was clear. They loved to play together, though he was nearly twice her size. We were happy for about a year and a half.
I noticed Akiko was on a longer ‘hunger strike’ than usual. If I had company over, or after bringing a new puppy I to the house, it wasn’t uncommon for Akiko to skip a meal out of fear. Food was made available, but she had to come out from under the bed for it and sometimes she would decide it just wasn’t worth it. She skipped a whole day, but came out at bedtime for her fish flakes (the one lure that never fails and gets her to take her Vallium). She skipped both meals the next day and wouldn’t come out for fish. I blamed it on the new bag of fish flakes I had just bought. But on day 3 she refused breakfast and off to the vet we went.
My vet wasn’t in on that Friday, but Dr. Ann was available. After everything with Runt, I had a standing order at the vet that their third veterinarian wasn’t to touch my animals. Dr. Ann said she felt a lump and that Akiko might have a blockage of hard stool. She did also have a fever, which I had suspected, and had lost more than a pound since her last exam. Subcutaneous fluids, an enema, and some antibiotics were ordered. We decided if she didn’t perk up over the weekend, we would do labs on Monday.
Akiko was much worse Saturday morning. I syringe-fed her a little kitty gruel, but she threw it all up about 2 hours later. She was limp, cold, and had shallow breathing. No questions asked, I scooped her up and we went to the 24/7 pet hospital.
The vet we met with was most likely jaded by too many bad pet owners. Everything was “it could be ____, or ____, or ____, or……. And running tests is expensive. The bottom line is you have a very sick kitty here. Akiko’s eyes and skin were yellow in pallor. The vet kept discrediting everything with “but that gets expensive.”
The blood panel machine broke right when Akiko’s blood was next to examine. Without blood work, we isn’t have enough to go on. I brought up FIP, but had the expected resistance to it. “She’s too young,” “It would have happened 3 years ago when your other cat had it,” and “It’s not that common.”
Maybe not in San Luis Obispo county, but in Japan FIP is a huge problem. Runt was only 3, she’s a few days away from 6, and FIP is a mutation, so she may have already had the Coronavirus, or she may have gotten it when Runt was sick, but we don’t know how long it would need to mutate. But I didn’t argue with the vet. I didn’t want to be right. ANYTHING else would have been better.
Akiko was still severely dehydrated, so I was convinced to leave her overnight for IV fluids this time to see if that helped. Then more tests could be done overnight once the machine was fixed. I’ve never left a pet in a cage overnight, but she needed the fluids and the care. I called a few times throughout the night (even at 4am) to check on her. Stable, but no improvement.