The Paw-dacity of Hope
We adopted Barack (Barry) and his sister, Michelle, in October of 2017 from our veterinarian’s cat rescue room. We bottle-fed the kittens for the first few weeks that they were in our care, and, at first, Barack was the stronger of the two kittens. He had no trouble latching on to the bottle; while his sister, on the other hand, was smaller and had to be syringe-fed in order to ensure she got enough calories. Barry even chewed on Michelle’s ear to the point where we had to separate them for a time.
Then, soon after his booster shots and neuter surgery, we noticed Barry did not bounce back as quickly as Michelle. We took him back to the vet and found he was running a low-grade fever. He responded to anti-biotics and seemed to improve. Overall, he developed a sweet and subdued personality, preferring to watch his sister and the other cats play rather than joining in. While Michelle quite literally bounced off walls, Barry preferred to cuddle with us on the couch. He often slept with us under the covers at night, purring contentedly.
Then, a few months later, we noticed a pronounced lethargy once more and discovered that he had retained deciduous (baby) teeth. A quick surgery to remove the extra teeth seemed to bolster Barack’s spirits. Had we noticed the slight downward trend in Barry’s overall health, we may have realized at the time that he was a very sick kitten. But we didn’t. He just seemed to be going through growing pains.
Then, in May of 2018, Barack demonstrated what I can only describe as an “overjump.” When he jumped onto surfaces, he would pop up and land on his back legs first. It would have been an adorably hilarious antic if it didn’t portend such dire circumstances. Our vet ran his blood work but wasn’t convinced of FIP based on the results alone, and she suggested that we take Barack to a neurologist. The neurologist, unfortunately, was more certain—95% certain, in fact, that we were dealing with a case of neurologic FIP.
We were devastated. Out of desperation, I did what many cat owners do in this situation. I turned to the Internet to try and find some answers—an action plan of some kind. I found FIP Fighters on Facebook and the names of university researchers who were doing work on FIP. I sent out Barry’s story and photo and waited for the impossible.
The impossible happened just three days after his diagnosis. I received an email back from some researchers asking for Barack’s records and videos showing his neurological symptoms. There was a new very limited drug trial for cats with the neurologic form of FIP. He was on a plane the very next day to receive his first dose of the trial drug. Within a day of receiving his first dose, his low-grade fever resolved, and Barry show more energy than he had in months. His appetite improved and so did his ataxia. He was a new kitten.
Four days later, we took Barack home with express instructions to administer injections daily for the next fourteen weeks. Some days were tougher than others. Some shots went smoothly. Other times, we needed to stick him two or three times to make sure he received his entire dose. We tempted him with treats and bribed him with turkey, all of which succeeded in turning him into a very spoiled cat. Despite the painfully thick needles filled with viscous liquid, Barack never resisted or ran away from his shot. We were lucky in that regard. For some cats, the daily injections, themselves, prove too traumatic. He had few side effects; he developed skin ulcerations due to the acidity of the solution the drug was diluted in, but those healed over, leaving only small bald patches as evidence of his treatment. He eventually got used to the routine. Occasionally, we were late with his morning shot. It was on those days, in particular, that Barack seemed to struggle against the needle as if to say, “Sorry, you had your window.”
The first month, especially, was rife with anxiety. Would the drug work? At one point, he seemed to take a downward trajectory but soon bounced back when the research team increased the dose to compensate for his weight gain. We sent blood work to the team monthly who monitored his levels. We would often close out our weekly emails and texts with the motto: “Go, Barry, go!” It became his rallying cry.
Barack celebrated his final shot on September 26, 2018, which also happened to coincide with his first birthday. We had a slight scare three days after he stopped treatment when his temperature spiked to 103.5. The team encouraged us to remain calm and monitor him, reminding us that we were watching for overall trends. His temperature could have been impacted by many factors: he could have been very active prior to taking his temperature or lying on the warm dishwasher. Luckily, his temperature returned to normal and has remained normal for the last two months.
Barack’s subsequent blood work has been excellent, and he has shown no signs of relapse as of the writing of this post. Another side effect is that Barry rarely cuddles with us under the covers or snuggles with us on the couch anymore. He is too busy running and playing and enjoying being a cat. He even challenges the older cats for dominance. Sometimes he wins. Barry’s journey will be lifelong. It will entail many more months and even years of watching and waiting before he can be declared “cured” of FIP. But we are hopeful that he can beat the odds and that his story can help raise awareness and pave the way for thousands of other cats to be declared survivors as well.
Unfortunately, as cliché as it is, money talks and people listen. Donations made to ZenByCat.org will help in this effort. Small, ongoing donations ($5-$10 monthly) will show drug companies that it is worth their time and effort to invest in these and other potentially life-saving drugs. It will show them that there is a market for these and other drugs like them and that developing and marketing FIP drugs is in their best financial interest. Please consider making a small, ongoing monthly donation. This will help ensure that cats like Barack, Smokey, Flora, and the other trial cats are the rule and not the exception. Go, Barry, go!