Lost the FIP Battle: 9/2/2011
Runt was the most adoring cat I could have ever asked for. He loved everyone unconditionally, ‘mothering’ rescued kittens alongside me in Japan, where I rescued him from underneath a BBQ grill. He will be missed more than words and tears can express.
I’ve volunteered for a lot of shelters and hand raised many neo-nate kittens rescued from various locations in the USA and in Japan. While volunteering as a board member at a shelter on a military base in Japan, I came across a cat that we had to quarantine as her friend died of FIP and she was a potential carrier. I spoke with other board members, researched online and with the base vet, and eventually wrote an article about this wonderful animal who needed a one-cat family home. She went from being the cat no visitor would touch, to having a list of applicants. I couldn’t have been more proud of my work. But even after my article on FIP, I still didn’t really understand just what it really meant, having never lost a pet to really anything other than old age.
Just a few long, tear-filled months ago, I lost my baby to Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP). He was only a few days past his fourth birthday. I rescued him when a family found him with his two sisters under a BBQ grill on their patio. As I did with all of my litters, I named the helpless, 3-day-old babies as a group; Kingsford, Ash, and Briquette. I always gave my fosters a theme. Never did I imagine that wriggling, white worm of a cat was my soul mate. As a baby, he was constantly sick, so I called him my Runt. I nursed him around the clock, force feeding him when necessary, and soothing his chapped little bottom any way I could. As he began to walk and talk, he became the poster child for the shelter. I used images of him in my marketing, and people started calling in for him immediately, but he wasn’t old enough to leave me yet. Then I started taking him to shelter promotional events and fundraisers. Everyone wanted to hold him, but I just couldn’t let go. I thought I was a pro at raising and releasing, but that world came crashing down. He was my baby and I was his mother. His only mother. Neither of us wanted it any other way.
He followed me from room to room, and marked me with his cheeks on every one of my toes each day. After deciding to keep him, I wanted to give him a regal name to fit his majestic face, but his dumb-as-a-bring, big hearted personality wouldn’t let me call him anything but Runt. Runt became my second in command when raising kittens. He never left the quarantine bathroom door unattended as he patiently waited for the day he was allowed contact with a new litter. Then, it was game on. He would gather the babies into a bed, and curl up around them like a mother cat. When I brought terrified, skittish kittens into my home (as I have no children, I always got these kittens), he showed them the ropes of the domestic life. Always wary of new people and place, kittens were different. Runt immediately loved every kitten he came in contact with, and mourned them when they left. I did everything I could to protect him, though he sometimes still found his way into the quarantine room when I wasn’t home.
When the shelter took the cat with FIP in, I made a vow to prevent any contamination of my home. I wore a special outfit to the shelter when I needed to interact with the potential carrier, and would then shed my clothing and hop into a hot shower before Runt or any other kitty could come in contact with me. I knew FIP was fatal. I also knew it is a very common disease in Japan. Still, I didn’t want to risk it.
I survived my shelter days and moved back to the States with three Japanese cats. Mika (a Japanese Mikeneko), Runt (a Japanese Bob), and Akiko (a mutt, through-and-through with stunted growth). We settled into our lives, made regular visits to the vet, and life was good. After a short vacation, I came home to notice Runt was thin. Concerned it was just stress, he got lots of extra treats and love for the next few weeks, but he continued to lose his muscle mass, but kept a slightly distended belly. We went to the vet, to whom I apologized for likely overreacting, but told that I was genuinely concerned he may have eaten something harmful while I was away. We started testing, put him on a high calorie diet, and I was asked to bring him in every few days for an official weight in. Two more weeks went by and he continued to lose weight. On that next appointment, my vet was unavailable and another vet filled-in. She said at this point they really weren’t sure, but that It could likely be something very serious or nothing at all. Getting no help from her, I lead the conversation to cover the two illnesses I was suspecting. She drew fluid out of his abdomen and the rest is tragic history. She actually suggested I put him down right there on the spot while I was hyperventilating through my tears and clutching my baby tightly to my chest. I needed to talk to MY vet. It was a Friday. I was advised Runt might not last the weekend.
Runt started vomiting regularly and started to turn away from food after one or two mouthfuls. I got in to see my vet, who did a fluid tap, and told me he wanted to call around and see what we could do. He knew a lot about FIP from working in highly populated areas, but as it had been a while for him, he didn’t know what was new for treatment options. We started with something to stop nausea, then steroids to help his appetite, paired with antibiotics to keep his immune system as strong as possible. After calling two experts on FIP, my vet returned with treatment options, but concluded that even the FIP experts agree the plan we were on was going to be the best. Other treatments would be very disruptive to an already stressed-out cat. I wanted him comfortable and happy. As long as he still wanted to sit on my lap and purr without any sign of pain, I was going to do everything I could to keep him happy. I bought us three months.