The history of Save Our Cats and Kittens over four decades and where we go from here
Niels C. Pedersen, DVM, PhD
Those who have followed my career know that I have many interests in addition to infectious diseases of cats. However, I am best known for feline medicine and diseases that plague multi-cat environments. This interest in infectious diseases started in 1965 as a second-year veterinary student but evolved after I joined the faculty of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in 1972. My first appointment was to help win President Nixon’s war on cancer. This war emphasized potential viral causes of cancer, in particular retroviruses and human leukemias. This was my entry back into the world of feline leukemia virus (FeLV). Of course, my interest was more on FeLV infection as it applied to cats than any application to human cancers. It became rapidly apparent that FeLV infection was a serious panzootic (pandemic) of cats that had unknowingly spread from feral to pet cats in the preceding decades and would account for one-third of mortality in cats in the 1960s and 70s. Cat lovers quickly mobilized once the virus was discovered and started raising money to support FeLV research. The original SOCK was created by a group of amazing cat lovers led by Vince, Connie and Dorothy Campanile and friends. SOCK it to leukemia became the rallying cry of the group and I was privileged to join forces with them from their beginning to end. Thereafter, donations from cat lovers and not federal research funds provided the bulk of our research into FeLV infection at UC Davis. This research led to an understanding of how FeLV became a pandemic of pet cats, how it caused a wide range of diseases, and how it could be controlled. FeLV infection of pet cats was brought under control in the 1970’s and 1980’s through rapid diagnostic tests and vaccination. The conquest of FeLV infection was one of the highlights of veterinary research of the period, and perhaps one of the most important contributions of modern feline medicine in the 20th century. SOCK it to leukemia had ultimately worked itself out of existence with over $1M dollars raised towards the ultimate conquest of FeLV infection. FeLV infection still exists in nature, where it remains a problem for a small number of younger cats coming into foster/rescues and shelters from the field.
During this same period, another highly fatal disease was rearing its head. Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) was first reported in 1963 by veterinarians from the Angell Memorial Animal Hospital in Boston. It was later found to be closely linked to FeLV infection and the hope was that it would largely disappear with control of FeLV. This did not prove true and FIP soon replaced FeLV as a major infectious cause of deaths in cats up to this time. As a result, the torch was passed from SOCK it to leukemia to SOCK it to FIP. This was also a natural progression for my research. FIP was my first “love” from the time I helped research the first cases of FIP at UC Davis as a veterinary student in 1965. My interest in FIP only took second stage for a brief period in the 1980s with my work on HIV/AIDS and subsequent discovery of feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). FIP has been my major research interest for the last three decades.
I am pleased to have had the support of SOCK FIP over these later years. One of our greatest discoveries at UC Davis was how an innocuous and ubiquitous feline enteric coronavirus (FECV) ends up causing such a highly fatal disease as FIP. Our theory that the virus of FIP arose as an internal mutation of FECV was first met with great skepticism but is now universally accepted. The internal mutation theory has led to a much better understanding of the conditions under which FIP occurs and how the FIP virus causes disease. Unfortunately, no one, including us, was able to find a successful vaccine for FIP. This failure led to my interest in curing rather than preventing FIP using modern antiviral drugs, which I became familiar with during the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The capstone of my almost 50-year experience with FIP was the discovery of two antiviral drugs that could cure FIP. Thousands of cats from round the world have been cured of FIP with antiviral drugs researched at UC Davis over the last 3 years. Our discoveries at UC Davis could have been impossible without the significant long-term financial and moral support of SOCK FIP and cat owners who have donated money.
The discovery of a cure for FIP has once again brought SOCK FIP to a logical ending, just as the conquest of FeLV infection ended the need for the original SOCK. Although I am retired, I continue to work with cat owners and caregivers on how to use antiviral drugs to treat FIP and will maintain my relationship with SOCK FIP as a consultant on FIP treatment and a lifelong member. Admittedly, there is still research to be done with FIP, mainly in the areas of disease prevention. Hopefully, others will take up this and other areas of FIP research. The question now is how SOCK can best improve the health of our cats and kittens. SOCK FIP is in the process of evaluating a broader mission than just FIP. This mission may or may not involve fund raising for research and could be more informational. We welcome suggestions on how the long history of SOCK’s can be used to improve the health of our cats and kittens.