Coronavirus in Cats

Coronavirus in Cats

The coronavirus is a large family of viruses identified as the cause of certain animal and human diseases.

The coronavirus, named COVID-19, spreads rapidly in humans. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) notes that so far there has been no evidence that the virus can infect pets or that our pets carry or transmit this virus. For more information, visit the WHO website.

In addition, the ‘World Small Animal Veterinary Association’ (WSAVA) has published on their COVID-19, Advice and Resources website an official statement titled ‘No evidence that COVID-19 can be contracted from pets’. For more information, visit WSAVA COVID-19, Advice and Resources website and the specific statement for pet owners.

Feline Coronavirus (FCoV) and Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)

A completely distinct Coronavirus variant that affects cats only is the Feline Coronavirus (FCoV). Feline Coronavirus (FCoV) also named Feline enteric coronavirus (FECV) is a highly common virus in domestic cat populations worldwide. Infection is often subclinical or characterized by transient gastrointestinal illness, including mild diarrhea and/or vomiting in kittens. Mutation of FCoV is responsible for the development of feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), a highly fatal, multisystemic disease.

Whenever FCoV infection exists, so does the potential for development of FIP. The probability of FCoV becoming FIP virus is about 1-3% in the feline FCoV infected population. Meaning, a FCoV infected cat won’t necessarily get sick with FIP.

Two forms of FIP disease are recognized: a ‘wet’ form and a ‘dry’ form. In both forms the clinical signs vary depending on the involved organs, such as liver, kidneys, pancreas, CNS, and eyes. FIP causes immune-mediated vasculitis, meaning that blood vessels of any organ can be affected and the clinical signs will result from damage to that organ, when in the ‘wet’ form the damage is greater and faster than in the ‘dry’ form.

In the wet form, obvious thick yellow fluid builds-up in the belly or chest. The disease develops within 4-6 weeks of a stressful event in the cat’s life. In contrast, the “dry” form is usually vague, and the development of disease takes a longer period, potentially years, but usually weeks to months. Unfortunately, both wet or dry forms are fetal with 100% mortality.

Factors increasing FCoV mutation

Factors that increase FCoV probability of mutation include young age (most frequent in cats 6 months to 2 years old), genetic breed tendency, the cat immunity status, stress, as well as dosage and virulence of the virus and re-infection rate in households, shelters and catteries which has numbers of cats.

In crowded environments, such as catteries or shelters, in addition to the high exposure rate to FCoV the stress levels are very high, which makes these cats extra susceptible to the disease.

It has been shown that most cats who have developed FIP experienced stress before they developed FIP. It is therefore recommended if possible, not to cause stress for cats who have FCoV antibodies, such as re-homing introduction of a new kitten, neutering which is better to delay to later age, etc.

How long to wait before a new cat enters the home?

Coronaviruses such as Feline Coronavirus or FCoV (who may turn to FIP virus), are not very stable, and traces of the virus should dissipate in about several days and possibly up to 7 weeks in dried up feces in cat litter. After that time, it should be safe enough to let a new cat enter the home. To be extra cautious the entire home could be vacuumed in order to remove traces of the cat litter and by that preventing fecal contamination.

Regarding the cat belongings, the un-stable virus can be removed from the environment by using common cleaners’ solutions. Decontamination of bowls, litter box and beddings could be performed easily by using a dishwasher, simple scrub and a washing machine respectively.

Steps for making sure the next cat is healthy

Because Feline Coronaviruses (FCoV) are very widespread in the feline population due to high contagious rate, when kittens are the most susceptible to contracting FCoV, the highest infectious probability is within stray, sheltered or cattery kittens who may have had early exposure to feline coronavirus.

None the less, in order to choose a healthy kitten, perhaps you should choose a kitten reared in a private home without any exposure to other cats, or a kitten from a coronavirus-free cattery, which in both cases the possibility of coronavirus exposer is very low. Another option is having an antibody blood test for the new cat for Feline Coronavirus exposure/infection. For more information on FCoV Antibody Test Kit visit the Biogal website.

In order to keep the new cat healthy, it should be kept indoors to prevent future exposure to FCoV.

This information is not intended to replace regular visits with your veterinarian. If you think your cat may suffer from FIP (Feline infectious Peritonitis), please contact your veterinarian immediately.

For further reading, visit the website of Dr. Diane Addie. Dr Addie is a world-renowned expert on Feline Coronavirus disease with a lot of valuable information.

In addition, CLICK HERE to read about Dr. Addie recommendation of the importance of performing an antibody test on every new cat by using FCoV ImmunoComb Antibody test kit.