NC. Pedersen, DVM PhD
Original article: Miscellaneous questions frequently arising during antiviral drug treatment for FIP and aftercare
Several issues often arise during FIP treatment. Before addressing these issues, it is important to mention the FIP treatment itself. Only antivirals that target specific viral proteins and inhibit FIP replication have been shown to have therapeutic effects. Currently, these include nucleoside analogs and RNA replication inhibitors GS-441524 (and a related prodrug Remdesivir), Molnupiravir (EIDD-2801) and the viral protease inhibitor GC376. Proper administration of these drugs has resulted in the cure of all forms of FIP in more than 90 % with minimal side effects. Most treatments are completed without complications. However, certain issues that are the subject of this article often arise.
I pointed out the problems associated with unwanted sexual behavior in intact females and males treated with specific antivirals. The questions often come from countries where castration is either postponed or not common practice. They fear that the stress of castration and vaccines may affect the outcome of antiviral treatment. I believe that such concerns are exaggerated. If a cat is in treatment and in remission or is considered cured, it is okay to sterilize or neuter it, but preferably in the least stressful way possible. Cats can be neutered and sterilized quickly and efficiently and returned to their homes on the same day (castration) or within one day (sterilization) with minimal preoperative, operative and postoperative drug treatment and restrictions (eg cages, E-collars). Such operations will be less stressful for cats (and owners, which will then be reflected in their cats) than their sexual behavior.
I am also not in favor of hormonal treatment to prevent unwanted sexual behavior in males or females, and I feel that effective castration and sterilization will be less stressful in the long run than such preventive measures. Therefore, if it is necessary to permanently change this behavior, surgical castration is more appropriate than chemical.
Some owners seem to want to keep cured cats intact so that they can be used for breeding later. We know that FIP has both genetic and environmental components, which has led to the recommendation that purebred cats that breed FIP kittens should not be used for breeding. This should be even more true for cats that have been cured of the FIP.
As far as vaccines are concerned, many already know that I am not a big fan of adult vaccines and the first annual booster vaccines because I feel that immunity is long-lasting. I also think that rabies vaccines cannot be used routinely in cats, whether in terms of public health or cats. Nevertheless, I accept that these views are not generally accepted and that the laws in several states require rabies to be vaccinated against rabbits, in some vaccination is not required and in others it is recommended but not required. I have not noticed the consequences of routine vaccinations in any of our cured cats. However, it is not something I would recommend for cats undergoing treatment. The immune system of these cats is responsible for other things than responding to vaccines.
What are the indications for drugs other than specific antivirals for the treatment of FIP? During the initial illness, supportive (symptomatic) treatment may be required to keep the cats alive long enough for the antivirals to take effect. Drugs often used in this early stage usually include antibiotics (doxycycline / clindamycin), analgesics (opioids, gabapentin), anti-inflammatory drugs (corticosteroids, NSAIDS), immunostimulants (interferons, non-specific immunostimulants), and drugs. I have tried to avoid excessive use of these drugs except for temporary use and only if it is strongly justified, especially in severely ill cats during the first days. The most important goal of FIP treatment is to stop the replication of the virus in macrophages, which immediately stops the production of the numerous inflammatory and immunosuppressive cytokines that cause the symptoms of FIP. Although some drugs, such as corticosteroids (prednisolone) or NSAIDs (meloxicam), may inhibit inflammatory cytokines and cause clinical improvement, they are not curative. They can also mask the beneficial effects of GS treatment, which are often monitored to assess the effect and course of treatment. The response to antiviral treatment is also used for diagnostic purposes. The only drugs that completely suppress these harmful cytokines and cure FIP are antivirals such as GS-441524, molnupiravir or GC376, and related compounds. These antivirals cause a dramatic improvement in fever, activity, appetite, etc. within 24-48 hours. This improvement will be much greater than any improvement made with other drugs. Therefore, if the use of other drugs is not warranted, they should be discontinued as soon as the symptoms of FIP have steadily improved.
I also do not believe in many supplements that are said to treat or prevent problems with the liver, kidneys, immune system or other organs. These supplements are expensive and have not been shown to be effective in what they claim. B12 injections only treat B12 deficiency, which is rare, and not anemia in FIP. The same goes for other vitamins. This also applies to a wide range of nutritional supplements and special diets for cats of many types. There is no essential ingredient in any of these supplements that could be provided by well-tested commercial cat food brands. There is also a possibility that some supplements interfere with the absorption of oral antivirals.
How should cats be monitored after treatment and during the post-treatment observation period? From a technical point of view, no further blood tests are needed, especially if routine health assessments such as weight, appetite and temperature are continued during this period. Blood tests during this period do not change the outcome and can only increase the cost of treatment and increase the owner's stress. However, it is common for successfully treated cats to routinely test for blood during a 12-week post-treatment observation, usually every 4 weeks, but sometimes more frequently. In some cases, routine blood testing is continued for 12 weeks after treatment, even out of fear of possible relapse or recurrence. Relapses or new infections after a 12-week observation period are rare and are preceded by external signs of the disease, such as weight loss, lethargy, anorexia, poor coat and fever, which would be the best indicators for a blood test. Blood test panels also contain many values, and it is not uncommon for one or more values to be abnormal in healthy cats. Care must be taken not to over-interpret such abnormalities and to lead to excessive concern or additional testing in order to determine their significance. For example, a mild to moderate increase in one in three liver enzymes in a healthy cat is much less important than in another cat with symptoms of the disease.