The Death of a Serval/Savannah Kitten As A Millennial Signpost?

Standing Serval Cat beside owner's legsSubmitted on 2014/08/01 at 1:12 am
Collage of Serval Cats

Rhonda sent a loving and heartbroken letter about the recent death of her Serval Kitten, She-Ma. All of these pictures are from Google Images simply to show examples of this little-known, South African breed.

FIP has been the worse illness I have ever watched, her name was She-ma and she was a 4 month old Serval. I had the honor to be of her family for a short time and I never thought my Huskie Misty would be her best friend….

(Again, these pictures are not of her pets, but are good examples from Google Images.)

Serval Cat & Dog

Serval Cat Sleeping With Dog


….where one was the other was right there until it was time to eat or go to bed. They would walk each other up and down the hall and in and out of every room. I had a basket that I would put stuffed animals in and one by one She-ma would take one out and put it in one of the bedrooms with Misty at her side, then I would refill the basket.


She-ma, every morning, would go to my bedroom door to see if we were awake and if not she did play with the other cats, most were Savannahs. Then one evening Misty was laying at the side of the bed watching underneath, I called Misty out thinking She-Ma was sleeping. Well it was about 45 mins later and went to feed She-ma and all she could do was crawl out dragging her hind end, we went ballistic, wanting to know what happen.

We called the vet for an emergency and she came in and it took us about 20 minute to get there. This vet said she had shaken baby sindrome and sent us home with injections of an anti inflamatory. I really didn’t like what the vet had to say, I even asked her could a seizure do this and she said no. She-ma started doing a little better and we called the vet and got some Prednisone. She-ma was kept in her kennel with pee-pads that were cleaned every time she went potty being very careful not to handle her too much. Four days later she was starting to swell, she ate and drank ok but we didn’t want her to get backed up with stool so we gave her a very little enema and she sat up shaking a little and let out 2 ok sized stools as we held her up, then she went to lay down and got back up as if to go some more and went over into a seizure. Trying to keep her from hurting herself and putting a hand on her talking to calm her.

We called the vet as we were getting her in the car. As I was driving Deb said Rhonda we are loosing her, I said no no no, then Deb said she is gone. I pulled over and started CPR, I could not believe all the fluid that was coming out, I tried again and she wasn’t coming back. Back home we went with the best Serval whose life was cut too short. This is so hard to write while crying. I did some research and started putting things together, she had FIP. God bless her soul and some day may I know her again. She did come back in spirit about three days later, I could hear her playing with Misty. I truly believe this. I really hope nobody ever has to go through this, if you do, God be with you and keep you strong. Rhonda

Oh My Holy Spirit! Here is a tender letter from Rhonda, whose four-month-old Serval Kitten died after a short illness with FIP, or Feline Infectious Peritonitis. Rhonda doesn’t have a question, but is lending her voice and experience to those of our other stories on this blog about the same cat disease. Do You have anything to add to this story?

“No, I don’t, Linda Layli. It’s just one of those terrible tests that Earth has waiting in the wings for some people and their beloved cats. Death comes completely by surprise and, in this case, it usually results in a lot of suffering, both for humans and their animal.  This really underlines the great helplessness that mortals have in the face of unpreventable death.

Don’t you see the coincidental timing going on right now, with the sudden outbreak in three West African countries right now? The Ebola Virus is running rampant and seems to be getting out of control. This human disease resembles FIP in many ways and is almost always fatal once it sets in and quickly makes changes to the cellular structure of the patient. It, too, is highly-contagious through contact.

I don’t really have any comparison to make about this observation. Ever since these comments started coming into your blogsite last year, We have thought of these animal diseases as being isolated to that population. This time, We are looking upon simultaneous, roughly-related, symptoms in both human and cat strains. The Serval is an African-breed of cat but is native to the southern end of Africa, not the northwestern, where Ebola has erupted. 

I’m not suggesting that this correlation is anything but symbolic, here at the turn of the Millennium, but We know that oddities, never before seen, could be comparable to other millenniums, when new things, good and bad, were suddenly thrust upon mankind’s consciousness. There is probably nothing to be done in either case, leaving mankind to be helpless witnesses to these horrible conditions which bring about the utmost suffering to innocent victims, like sweet She-Ma, and give their survivors the personal realization that they are not entirely in control of destiny….either as a family, a country or a globe. 

But, this also teaches survival and an appreciation for having escaped such a hard, hard test, oneself. So, these kitten’s deaths may have, generally, presaged the beginnings of the same cleansing of mankind. They are telling us all sorts of things about the cleansing of this planet and the sicknesses that grip it. Terrible calamities have come in the past, at the turn of the Millennium. They will have to run their course, as usual, as the rest of humanity witnesses in horror.”

Below is a complete definition of FIP:

Feline Infectious Peritonitis …What is FIP?

Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) is a viral disease of cats caused by certain strains of a virus called the feline coronavirus. Most strains of feline coronavirus are avirulent, which means that they do not cause disease, and are referred to as feline enteric coronavirus. Cats infected with a feline coronavirus generally do not show any symptoms during the initial viral infection, and an immune response occurs with the development of antiviral antibodies. In a small percent of infected cats (5 to 10 percent), either by a mutation of the virus or by an aberration of the immune response, the infection progresses into clinical FIP. The virus is then referred to as feline infectious peritonitis virus (FIPV). With the assistance of the antibodies that are supposed to protect the cat, white blood cells are infected with virus, and these cells then transport the virus throughout the cat’s body. An intense inflammatory reaction occurs around vessels in the tissues where these infected cells locate, often in the abdomen, kidney, or brain. It is this interaction between the body’s own immune system and the virus that is responsible for the disease. Once a cat develops clinical FIP involving one or many systems of the cat’s body, the disease is progressive and is almost always fatal. The way clinical FIP develops as an immune-mediated disease is unique, unlike any other viral disease of animals or humans.

Is my cat at risk for developing FIP?

Any cat that carries any coronavirus is potentially at risk for developing FIP. However, cats with weak immune systems are most likely to develop the disease, including kittens, cats already infected with feline leukemia virus (FeLV), and geriatric cats. Most cats that develop FIP are under two years of age, but cats of any age may develop the disease.

FIP is not a highly contagious disease, since by the time the cat develops clinical disease only a small amount of virus is being shed. Feline coronavirus can be found in large quantities in the saliva and feces of cats during the acute infection, and to a lesser extent in recovered or carrier cats, so it can be transmitted through cat-to-cat contact and exposure to feces. The virus can also live in the environment for several weeks. The most common transmission of feline coronavirus occurs when infected female cats pass along the virus to their kittens, usually when the kittens are between five and eight weeks of age.

FIP is relatively uncommon in the general cat population. However, the disease rate is much higher in multiple-cat populations, such as some shelters and catteries. FIP has also been shown to be more common in certain breeds, but the research is still unclear as to whether these breeds are more susceptible because of their genetics or whether they are exposed to feline coronavirus more often because many of them come from catteries.

What are the symptoms of FIP?

Cats that have been initially exposed to the feline coronavirus usually show no obvious symptoms. Some cats may show mild upper respiratory symptoms such as sneezing, watery eyes, and nasal discharge. Other cats may experience a mild intestinal disease and show symptoms such as diarrhea. Only a small percentage of cats that are exposed to the feline coronavirus develop FIP-and this can occur weeks, months, or even years after initial exposure.

In cats that develop FIP, the symptoms can appear to be sudden since cats have an amazing ability to mask disease until they are in a crisis state. Once symptoms develop, often there is increasing severity over the course of several weeks, ending in death. Generally, these cats first develop nonspecific symptoms such as loss of appetite, weight loss, depression, rough hair coat, and fever.

There are two major forms of FIP, an effusive, or “wet” form, and a noneffusive, or “dry” form. Generally, cats will exhibit the signs of the noneffusive form FIP more slowly than the effusive form. Symptoms generally include chronic weight loss, depression, anemia, and a persistent fever that does not respond to antibiotic therapy.

The effusive form of FIP is characterized by an accumulation of fluid in the abdomen, or less commonly in the chest. Early in the disease, the cat may exhibit similar symptoms to the dry form, including weight loss, fever, loss of appetite, and lethargy. The wet form of the disease often progresses rapidly, and the cat may quickly appear pot-bellied due to fluid accumulation in the abdomen. When the fluid accumulation becomes excessive, it may become difficult for the cat to breathe normally.

FIP can be difficult to diagnose because each cat can display different symptoms that are similar to those of many other diseases.

Can my cat be tested for FIP?

One of the most difficult aspects of FIP is that there is no simple diagnostic test. The ELISA, IFA, and virus-neutralization tests detect the presence of coronavirus antibodies in a cat, but these tests cannot differentiate between the various strains of feline coronavirus. A positive result means only that the cat has had a prior exposure to coronavirus, but not necessarily one that causes FIP.

The number that is reported from these tests is called an antibody titer. Low titers indicate a small amount of coronavirus antibodies, while high titers indicate much greater amounts of antibodies. A healthy cat with a high titer, however, is not necessarily more likely to develop FIP or be a carrier of an FIP-causing coronavirus than a cat with a low titer. A cat with a high titer is also not necessarily protected against developing FIP in the future.

Other tests have been developed that can detect parts of the virus itself. The immunoperoxidase test detects virus-infected cells in the tissue, but a biopsy of affected tissue is necessary for evaluation. Another antigen test uses polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to detect viral genetic material in tissue or body fluid. Although this test shows promise, PCR is presently only capable of detecting coronaviruses in general, not necessarily those that cause FIP.

To date, there is no way to screen healthy cats for the risk of developing FIP, and the only way to definitively diagnose FIP is by biopsy, or examination of tissues at autopsy. Generally, veterinarians may rely on a presumptive diagnosis, which can be made with a relatively high degree of confidence by evaluation of the cat’s history, presenting symptoms, examination of fluid if it is present, and the results of supporting laboratory tests including a positive coronavirus antibody titer.

Can FIP be treated?

Unfortunately, there is no known cure or effective treatment for FIP at this time. Some treatments may induce short-term remissions in a small percentage of cats; however, FIP is a fatal disease. Treatment is generally aimed at supportive care, such as good nursing care and nutrition, and alleviating the inflammatory response of the disease. Cats with FIP are often treated with corticosteroids, cytotoxic drugs, and antibiotics. Supportive care may also include fluid therapy, draining accumulated fluids, and blood transfusions.

Research is ongoing to find other immunosuppressive drugs that may slow down the progress of the disease. Attempts are also being made to find antiviral drugs that will prevent or slow down the replication of the virus. One promising approach currently being studied combines both an antiviral agent and an immune response modifier.

Can I protect my cat from getting FIP?

In multiple cat environments, keeping cats as healthy as possible and minimizing exposure to infectious agents decreases the likelihood of cats developing FIP. Litter boxes should be kept clean and located away from food and water dishes. Litter should be cleansed of feces daily, and the box should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected regularly. Newly acquired cats and any cats that are suspected of being infected should be separated from other cats. Preventing overcrowding, keeping cats current on vaccinations, and providing proper nutrition can also help decrease the occurrence of FIP in groups of cats.

There is only one licensed FIP vaccine available; however, this vaccine has minimal if any effectiveness in preventing FIP, and it is not generally recommended by the American Association of Feline Practitioners Feline Vaccine Advisory Panel. Primucell FIP, produced by Pfizer Animal Health, is a temperature-sensitive, modified-live virus vaccine that is given as an intranasal vaccine, and is licensed for use in cats at least 16 weeks of age. The vaccine appears to be safe, but the risks and benefits of vaccination should be weighed carefully. Cat owners should consult their veterinarian to help them decide if their cat should be vaccinated.

This brochure was prepared by the American Association of Feline Practitioners and the Cornell Feline Health Center, Cornell University, College of Veterinary Medicine, Ithaca, New York 14853-6401. The center is committed to improving the health of cats by developing methods to prevent or cure feline diseases and by providing continuing education to veterinarians and cat owners. Much of that work is made possible by the financial support of friends. ©2002 by Cornell University. All rights reserved. Cornell University is an equal opportunity, affirmative action educator and employer. 

About Linda J. Brown

Linda is a solo around the world traveler, having slowly explored the world's two hemispheres. A third trip around the equator has just begun, planned to last at least four years. After living for a year in the spiritual and beautiful town of Santa Fe, New Mexico, she has transferred to the beautiful and spiritual town of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Feeling honored that the mysterious Hurricane Patricia paid her a call during her first week; she is none-the-less, eternally-grateful that this "worst hurricane in human history" decided to leave the planet alone, after all.
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