While there’s no doubt that COVID-19 is highly contagious when it comes to people, its variant which affects cats.
The Feline Coronavirus (FCoV) generally causes asymptomatic infection. However, its mutation, the Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) is considered highly fatal. Here’s everything you need to know about Coronavirus in cats
Even though a small number of pets worldwide, including cats and dogs, have been reported to be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) notes that so far there has been no evidence that the virus can infect pets or that pets carry or transmit the virus. In addition, the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) hasn’t found “evidence that COVID-19 can be contracted from pets.” With that being said, there is a completely distinct coronavirus variant that does affect cats: the Feline Coronavirus (FCoV) which can develop into something worse.
Feline Coronavirus (FCoV) and the Dangers of Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)
Feline Coronavirus (FCoV) or Feline Enteric Coronavirus (FECV) is a highly common virus in domestic cat populations around the world. Infection is often subclinical or characterized by transient gastrointestinal illness, including mild diarrhea and/or vomiting in kittens. However, a mutation of FCoV which is responsible for the development of Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) is considered to be a highly fatal, multisystemic disease.
Whenever the FCoV infection exists, so does the potential for the development of FIP. Luckily, the probability of FCoV turning into the FIP virus is about 1-3% in the feline FCoV infected population. In other words, a FCoV infected cat won’t necessarily suffer from the FIP virus, and one should hope that it won’t.
There are two common forms of FIP: a ‘wet’ form and a ‘dry’ form. In both forms the clinical signs vary depending on the involved organs, such as the liver, kidneys, pancreas, CNS, and eyes. FIP causes immune-mediated vasculitis, meaning that blood vessels of any organ can be affected with clinical signs resulting from the damage to the affected organ. In the ‘wet’ form the damage is greater and has a much faster impact on the organ than in the ‘dry’ form.
In the ‘wet’ form, obvious thick yellow fluids build up in the cat’s belly or chest. The disease develops within 4-6 weeks and has an extremely stressful effect on a cat’s life. In contrast, the ‘dry’ form is usually vague, and the development of the disease spreads upon a longer period of time, potentially even years, but usually takes a toll within several weeks to a few months. Unfortunately, both ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ forms are fatal with 100% mortality rates.
Factors that Could Increase the Likelihood of FIP Development
While the percentage of cats that will suffer from FIP are not high, there are factors that could increase the likelihood of a FCoV mutation development. These include a cat’s young age (in particular, kittens between 6 months to 2 years old), a genetic breed tendency, the cat’s immunity status, stress levels and the dosage and virulence of the virus as well as its re-infection rate in households, shelters and catteries where there are several cats infected by FCoV.
Furthermore, in crowded environments, such as catteries or shelters, in addition to the high exposure rate to FCoV the cats’ stress levels are very high, which makes sheltered cats highly susceptible to the disease.Research has shown that most cats that develop FIP, experienced high levels of stress before they developed the virus. It is therefore recommended, if possible, to reduce stress levels in cats with FCoV antibodies, i.e, rehoming, introducing a new kitten to the household, neutering which can be delayed to an older age, etc.
When Is it Safe to Reintroduce an FCoV- uninfected Cat Into the Home?
Coronaviruses such as Feline Coronavirus or FCoV (that could potentially turn into the FIP virus), are unstable viruses, meaning that traces of the virus should dissipate in about several days and possibly up to 7 weeks in dried up cat litter feces. After which time, it should be safe enough to let the cat enter the pet owner’s home. To be extra cautious the entire home should be vacuumed in order to remove traces of the cat’s litter so as to prevent fecal contamination.
Regarding the cat’s belongings, traces of the virus can be removed from the environment by using common cleaning detergents. Decontamination of bowls, the cat’s litter box and beddings can be performed easily by using a dishwasher, a simple scrub and a washing machine respectively.
Testing the Cat’s Antibodies for FCoV
Feline Coronaviruses (FCoV) are widespread in the feline population due to high contagious rates making kittens and in particular stray, sheltered or cattery kittens that may have had an early exposure to the disease, the most susceptible.
Nonetheless, it’s important that veterinarians recommend potential cat owners choose a kitten reared in a private home without any exposure to other cats, or a kitten from a coronavirus-free cattery. In both cases the possibility of coronavirus exposure will be very low. Another option, which is highly recommended by veterinarians including Dr. Addie, a world renowned specialist in infectious cat diseases, is to test the cat’s blood for Feline Coronavirus antibodies by performing a simple blood test, which will indicate exposure/infection to Feline Coronavirus.
Once the cat is placed in its forever home, it is essential that it be kept indoors in order to prevent future exposure to FCoV and to make sure it remains healthy.