Our foster kitten Lefty may have FIP. He had been recovering from an especially bad upper respiratory illness which required the use of a nebulizer and a battery of meds. He pulled through and seemed almost back to normal by Friday night. After he had some food, he napped on the couch with us. About an hour later he woke up and started acting strange.
His claw was caught in the slipcover, so I thought his movements were related to him trying to wiggle free. But after I released him, he kept wobbling. His pupils were dilated and he couldn't seem to see us. He started wriggling and trying to run across the couch, oblivious to any obstacles or the edge (he almost ran right off). We immediately took a car to VERG, the 24-hour emergency vet in Boerum Hill.
On the car ride over, Lefty had a seizure. I don't think it lasted long but it seemed like an hour, as did the cab ride. By the time we got there, the seizure had subsided but Lefty was still acting oddly. They admitted him and set about quelling his symptoms while figuring out what was wrong. He had another seizure while we were there. The vet said a number of thigns could cause seizures, including poisoning, head trauma or infectious disease. The latter seemed most likely although we did spend a lot of time theorizing about whether he fell off the couch earlier or if his food was somehow tainted. Infectious disease seemed likely; the vet said it can attack the nervous system and cause seizures and vision loss. And if it had gotten to the brain like this, the outlook was not good. They eventually brought him back out to see us, but he was really out of it now, flailing around and not responding to us at all. We had to leave him overnight where he would be observed and given fluids and meds.
The vet called at 1:30AM that night to tell us the preliminary blood work noted anemia but everything else was more or less normal. She wanted to run an Infectious Disease Panel as she thought this was the cause of the seizures. She said we'd have the test results the next afternoon, but there was a good chance it was something like FIP or Toxoplasmosis.
We thought Lefty would be gone by morning. He'd already been through so much, with repeated URIs and a general lack of robustness. I counted it up and in the 3½ months we've had him, he's been to the vet 5 times for illness. He was just never a particularly healthy kitten. But we thought if we could get him through these early months his immune system would pick up and he could live normally. But with this new terrifying incident, it seemed hopeless. A kitten isn't supposed to have seizures.
Saturday we spoke with a neurologist. Lefty had eaten a little overnight but otherwise was not doing well. He did not seem to be able to see, his pupils were reacting to light but he didn't seem to process visually. Worse, when he would get up he would just pace in a circle, again and again. He was now on anti-seizure medicine so he didn' t have any more fits at least. The neurologist said an MRI might reveal the cause, along with a spinal tap. This would be expensive and very hard on little Lefty, so we decided to wait for the test results before proceeding.
But the test results didn't come in Saturday. A problem with a big emergency hospital like VERG is the vets rotate every shift, so every time I called in I got a new vet who was just picking up on Lefty's condition and found it difficult to convey the necessary urgency. This one said the results would be in on Sunday … probably. It bothered me a little they didn't seem more concerned about getting Lefty better, but he was stable so maybe there was no rush. To them, anyway.
Sunday came with no better news, still no vision, still circling. And now he wasn't eating at all, he would being syringe fed by the staff. We started preparing ourselves for what seemed inevitable: he would be diagnosed with advanced FIP and would have to be put down for his own good. While we knew he had always been a bit sickly, it was still hard to accept that our little boy wouldn't be around much longer. But it sounded like he wasn't even himself anymore, his brain was too far gone to get any decent quality of life. We planned to go up to the hospital to see him and most likely say goodbye.
We did bring a bottle of formula. Although it seems increasingly wrong, Lefty never lost his fondness for formula, so when he was sick we would let him have all he wanted. He wasn't great at eating solid food even when he was well so this at least got some nutrition and fluids into him. So we brought his bottle with us; it would be his last meal. We were taken to a waiting room an eventually someone brought him in. In the afternoon we got some of the test results in: positive for coronavirus at a fairly high concentration. While not conclusive, a high coronavirus coupled with significant symptoms is a strong indicator of FIP. We headed to the hospital with our decision made. We didn't even bring a carrier with us.
Lefty looked fine. Well, not 'fine' but he certainly wasn't the mess we'd been led to believe over the phone. He still couldn't see and his coordination wasn't 100%, but he could walk (and not just in circles) and seemed to know who we were. Most of all he was very energetic, climbing all over us and looking for his bottle! We obliged him and he guzzled nearly the whole thing. I know formula is not the preferred food for post-weaning age kittens but like our CRF cat Gilda, sometimes you gotta just find anything they will eat. We still knew he was probably not long for this world, but there was no way we could make that call that night.
So despite the pursed lips of the vet, we asked to take him home. They loaded us up with medicines and a cardboard carrier and we went home. He drank some more formula and napped on us like he normally would. The blindness is still a bit of a jarring reminder that all is not well with Lefty, but it's currently his worst symptom, even his sniffly nose has cleared up for now. Looking back at some of the video I took just before this happened, I wonder if he didn't lose his sight even before the seizures, because he seemed to be doing some of the same actions, like climbing onto the back of the couch and not being able to get down on his own. The vets had called his behavior "abnormal mentation," meaning that his brain was making his body act weird. But a lot of what he was doing is the same stuff he's always done. He may not be right in the head, but that's Lefty.
The prognosis is still grave (or 'guarded' as the vet wrote on the his forms). We know that if this is truly FIP there isn't much that can be done to counter it. We are again trying to prepare ourselves for the moment we have to make the decision to end his life, it's not a fun place to be. But we are much more confident about everything now that we have him with us, we know his behaviors very well so we should be able to tell when things change. And we hope he knows where he is enough to be as comfortable as possible.
It's unbelievable that all this has happened in a mere 3 days: Lefty went from mostly-healthy kitten, to messed-up, to terminal, to not-so-terminal in less than 72 hours. I wanted to write this story up now so people on my flickr account don't see photos with me saying "We're so happy he's just blind now!" and think we're some kind of sadists. It's incredible how fast things can change, yesterday at this time we were sure Lefty wouldn't be around at all anymore, so having him still with us for a while, even in a compromised way, feels like a real gift.
Here's video of Lefty enjoying his bottle when we went to VERG: