Pet Connections

Fighting FIP: Collaborative Efforts and Cured Cats

Becky L. Morrow, DVM, MS, CAWA

Echo was a tiny black kitten that was about to walk into traffic while I was traveling southbound on Route 28. I quickly pulled over and wondered how I was going to catch the little thing. Amazingly, she ran right to me and started purring. For months, Echo was a happy and healthy kitten, but one day I noticed that one of her pupils was smaller than the other. After sending out some blood tests, I made the devastating diagnosis of FIP. I did my best to give her good quality of life with steroids, eye medications, and acupuncture treatments, all the while knowing that the disease was fatal. Echo almost made it to her first birthday. 

For over 20 years, a diagnosis of FIP meant death for cats, but in 2017 that changed. Dr. Niels Pedersen made it his life mission to find a cure for this disease, performing research in his lab for over 50 years, and reached his goal as a Professor Emeritus at UC Davis. We finally had something to help cats like Echo. Or did we? The story is a bit complicated.

Let’s start with the disease itself. FIP stands for Feline Infectious Peritonitis and is caused by a coronavirus that is specific to cats. As you know from the pandemic, coronaviruses are prone to mutate, and Feline coronavirus (FeCoV) is no different. FeCoV is commonly transferred to cats via stool and may cause diarrhea or result in an asymptomatic infection. In a very small number of cats, FeCoV mutates in such a way that it becomes capable of causing FIP. This disease was initially discovered in cats with peritonitis, hence the name Feline Infectious Peritonitis. The “wet form,” as we call it, is the most easily diagnosed form – a kitten presents with a distended belly that keeps getting bigger. These kittens are also thin, with muscle loss over the back, and straw-colored and sticky fluid in the abdomen. 

The other “dry forms” are much trickier to detect, but in almost every case these cats are under 2 years of age with significant weight loss. They may have inflammatory lesions that cause back-end wobbling or other neurologic signs, masses called granulomas in the kidneys or at the junction of the small and large intestines, yellow colored skin and mucous membranes (jaundice), or eye inflammation like Echo. Cats with either the wet or dry form may also have a low-grade fever that comes and goes. Even though there are tests that are marketed as being “FIP specific,” the only tests that exist are those that detect all Feline coronaviruses, not just the version that mutates to cause FIP. This means that we are mostly diagnosing the condition based on the appearance of the cat and, perhaps, some basic bloodwork. 

Once the diagnosis is made, what can we do? This is where things get complicated. Your vet may think that nothing can be done, as the treatment is not available by the normal channels. Unfortunately, the drug company that owns the patent has been sitting on this antiviral cure, preventing it from receiving FDA approval or being placed on the veterinary market for the past 5 years. Luckily, families with FIP kitties took matters into their own hands and crowdsourced the treatment by working with drug manufacturers outside of the U.S. and authenticating the medications through independent laboratories. Through FIP Warriors on Facebook, thousands of cats have now been cured. 

While we have seen this miracle ourselves in five kittens that have come through Frankie’s Friends, I recently learned about a study where an animal shelter has data on 107 cats that completed the 12-week treatment and is collecting data from nearly a hundred more. Even with the inclusion of cats with other illnesses, Feline leukemia virus, and those already with advanced illness from FIP the shelter is getting a 91% cure rate.

While the internet and social media comes with its share of negativity, social networking was crucial to helping cats with FIP – gathering data, creating protocols, and helping cat owners get this lifesaving medication. Never underestimate the power of a cat loving community!


December 14, 2023
December 14, 2023


December 14, 2023