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Chaz - Feline Infectious Peritonitis

On Thursday 20th December Steve made the cats dinner as normal and carried it down to the basement, Chaz didn’t follow. This was rather unusual so I called, coaxed and led him down to their bowls. His brother Dave was also hanging back. With some coaxing I got them to follow me down to their bowls and they tucked into their dinner. The next day the same thing, but when we got downstairs Dave tucked in and Chaz wandered off. We thought that this was probably just them trying a new and interesting way of getting attention and being cats. But just in case we figured it best to keep an eye on them.

Saturday night we had family over for our ‘Christmas dinner’ as people had to be elsewhere on Christmas day. Chaz secretly spent quite a bit of time on Steve’s lap hidden under the table. They aren’t supposed to come to the table as we have a number of people we like to have over who are allergic to cats. Chaz again didn’t follow Steve to dinner, but Steve carried him down and made sure he ate some. On Sunday again Steve had to take him to dinner, this time he turned his nose up at the wet food, but went and had some dry food.

For Christmas we had bought them a new tin of treats, they already recognised the noise as they have a tin. When I rattled it they all came running as always. Chaz tearing down the hall and flying off the step in his hurry to get to the kitchen, same as always; he would be the one in the morning shouting at us that everyone should get some treats before we left for work. For all his hurry though we don’t think he actually ate any treats.

Wednesday he started showing symptoms that explained it all. He was quieter than normal, although he was a very quiet cat anyway and he had a blocked nose. We tried to keep his nose clean and plugged in the Benelyn diffuser in the bedroom where he was sleeping. When he moved rooms we moved the diffuser.

We had had some experience with URI’s (upper respiratory infection) from ours and from foster cats and had been told that it was important to make sure they kept hydrated. We had made fresh turkey stock so we tried syringing a little of this into the side of his mouth. Not all of it ended up all over the counter. We had a regular annual booster appointment with the vet planned for Thursday for George and Lily, so we thought we could just ask for advice, or if he was still bad take him with us.

Thursday he seemed much better, he was up and around and his third eyelid was not showing as much. As he was still weak we tried to syringe some more stock into him, but he didn’t seem to like it, so we went with just water, again we got some into him if not much. But we didn’t want to bother him too much as we thought he was recovering and would soon be able to manage for himself. We figured he was just weak as he was recovering. We still mentioned it to the vet though and having discussed his symptoms were still of the opinion that he had a standard URI and we were doing the right thing. She had asked if he had a fever and we said we didn’t think so.

Sometimes before when one of them has had a fever we have been able to tell from their ears feeling warmer than normal. His ears didn’t. In fact I thought he felt a little cold, but I figured I was just over worrying and that cats didn’t get cold, and that he really wouldn’t appreciate me covering him with a blanket! When we had gotten home we had a call from our real estate agent that we had some people wanting to view the house the next day, so we started rushing around making sure everything was tidy. Chaz got up and followed us from room to room.

I think that Chaz’s favourite time of day was bed time. He always came to bed with us, after having spent the evening sat near us or on Steve. We got into bed and he jumped up onto the bed and stretched out between us, and that is where he stayed.

Friday morning wasn’t so good. Steve had to go to work, when normally Chaz would have been up, first in line for breakfast and demanding treats, he stayed on the bed. We were a little concerned. He seemed very weak. I spent the morning working on in the other room but going in often to check on him. Around lunchtime I went in and found him on the floor, he could barely raise his head. I called Steve. While waiting for Steve to call back confirming the vet could see us, I got the bottom half of a carrier with a fleecy blanket in and picked him up off the floor. I kept him close and talked to him while I folded the laundry, then just sat and stroked him.

Our agent arrived with the first of the people due to view the house. I explained that plans had changed, Steve was on his way home and we had to go to the vets. The plan was supposed to be that we would be home so that viewers could see the areas of the basement that belongs to the dogs without being eaten.

Steve got home and bundled the dogs into the back of the car, as there were more people due. We rushed to the vet, being waved at by a police officer we passed to slow down. We arrived and joked with the receptionist that I must have jinxed it when we had left the day before joking that we hoped not to be seeing them too soon.

They showed us into the appointment room where we both stroked and talked to Chaz. Steve is sure that he could hear him quietly singing. He tried again to lift his head and chattered to us, we comforted him and he settled. The vet came in and things soon became very scary. She said he was jaundiced and cold; his temperature was a few degrees colder than it should be. She felt that it was likely to be FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitis) or, I think she said Leukemia, and that it was serious and that his prognosis was guarded. He needed intensive care. They would do some blood tests to be sure of his diagnosis and that it took about 15 minutes for results.

I told him to fight and kissed his head. She said that yes he would need to fight. She took him and he lifted his head and chattered to us, we told him it would be ok and he should fight. We waited, with Steve popping out every few minutes to make sure the dogs were ok.

The tears had already started. I was worrying that we had maybe gotten it wrong when trying to syringe the water into the side of his mouth and that maybe we had caused pneumonia or something; I had read that this could be problem. We were worried, but thought that it would be a case of him being on an IV or something and maybe having to stay at the vets for a night or something. We waited, and waited.

She slid the door back and said ‘I am sorry guys, it is not good news. I put the needle in to draw blood and his heart stopped. We did everything, CPR and compressions, like you would for a person, but we couldn’t get him back. Like you might have seen on the TV I tried injecting adrenalin into his heart’. This is paraphrasing; I was not entirely focused by this point. She went on to tell us that there had been the yellow cloudy fluid in the needle which was an indicator of FIP. She was as sure as she could be that it was FIP.

She brought him back to us. We had not finalised the paperwork with the humane society, so technically he was still a foster cat. We did not know if we had to take him there. After many calls Steve had not been able to do more than leave a voicemail. Finally one of the assistants was able to get hold of a technician at the Humane Society who said that we needed to take him there.

We came home; we still had the dogs and didn’t feel that they needed a trip across town. Steve didn’t feel up to the drive, it is the best part of an hour, so we decided that it would be better to wait until the morning. We were also concerned as to what would happen to him. Saturday morning Steve was able to finally speak to someone, they said that the only way they could be sure that it was FIP would be with a necropsy, and that they had a vet that would do that for them, but that due to the holidays it would be a week or so before it could be done, and that due the contagious nature they were a little hesitant to have him there. We took him back to our vet.

Due to the holidays there is a delay, so we will have to wait a couple of weeks for his final return to us. We plan to find a sunny spot for the little stone urn. We had decided to adopt our little orange boys so they would not be separated, this was really not the way we had intended.

I used that frightening word before, contagious. We have a large feline family, with more than just his brother to worry about. FIP is a virus; it is a mutation of FECV (Feline Enteric Coronavirus). FECV is a very common virus, especially from places where large groups of cats are kept together (I don’t think that we quite have enough to count), but most of our felines came to us from a shelter and have had a URI at some point. FECV may cause a mild upper respiratory disease, or may produce no clinical signs, but the cat can be a carrier. Those that started as fosters all came because they had a URI to recover from.

"In any cat infected with FECV there is a chance that the virus may mutate into the FIP causing form. This chance is increased for cats that are immune compromised including very young and very old cats. There is also thought to be a genetic component to susceptibility to viral mutation" - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feline_infectious_peritonitis

This all scared us silly. We had thought he had a URI which we understood and had experienced. We thought we knew what we were looking for. To have the rules changed so dramatically and fatally was terrifying. Now I am a little obsessed, and look in Dave’s ears every day just to make sure they don’t look jaundiced.

We miss Chaz terribly, Dave spent days wandering around the house looking for his brother. He is still not quite himself. I now have to carry him down to dinner every night as he won’t go on his own. He does eat well when he gets there though. I still worry.

I am posting this in the hopes that maybe it might help someone else. We didn’t know what we were looking for. A cat’s temperature can drop too low as well as be too high. We think that we didn’t spot the jaundice because we didn’t know to look and because you don’t necessarily notice something when it creeps up gradually. You can spot jaundice from the inside of the ears, the whites of their eyes or their gums. If you are unsure or worried, go to your vet.

We are trying to take some comfort from the fact that if we had taken him in sooner he would have been exposed to poking, prodding and tests, and as FIP is almost always fatal, the only treatment is symptomatic. This way he spent his last days at home, surrounded by love; and his suffering was brief.

I miss my kitten.

Written by Heidi, January 2008


Update - August 2008

Well it has been 8 months now that we have survived without him, reading this still makes me cry. Dave found it very difficult for a long time, which was very hard for him, and for us to watch. He became a much cuddlier little boy, who needed to be with us far more than he had before. He started sleeping in Chaz's favourite spots instead of his own. He is also more vocal, and likes to be picked up and cuddled like Chaz did. Its almost like he is now both of them in one body!

He does have Oliver, and they do look very alike. The two of them can often be found curled up together in such a way that you can hardly tell which paws belong to which cat! And though he doesnt need us as much as he did, he is still a cuddler and a big talker.

I still miss my kitten.