Viral diseases

Feline Coronavirus

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. Updated: March 10, 2020
Feline Coronavirus

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Feline coronavirus is a disease that concerns many animal-companions. As such, it's very important to be properly informed of its transmission, the symptoms displayed by the animal and the required treatment in case of infection. With recent outbreaks of the human coronavirus Covid-19, these fears have been heightened.

Coronavirus gets its name because of its crown-like shape. It has particular characteristics which make it an especially dangerous virus, so you should be very careful and pay close attention if your cat has been in contact with infected animals.

Find out all about feline coronavirus at AnimalWised, including the symptoms and treatment in case of infection.

You may also be interested in: Peritonitis in Cats
  1. What is the coronavirus virus?
  2. What cats are at risk of coronavirus infection?
  3. What are the symptoms of feline coronavirus?
  4. What are the symptoms of feline infectious peritonitis?
  5. Feline coronavirus treatment
  6. Is feline coronavirus curable?
  7. How long is the recovery process?
  8. How to care for a cat with coronavirus
  9. Can humans get the coronavirus (COVID-19) from cats?

What is the coronavirus virus?

The coronavirus is a species of virus with small projections on its exterior surface, giving it a distinct crown-like shape to which it owes its name.

This kind of virus has a particular preference for the epithelial cells of cats' intestines, which causes mild and chronic gastroenteritis. The virus is expelled through the cat's feces, which becomes the main vehicle for its transmission. One of the main features of this virus is its ability to mutate, leading to another condition known as feline infectious peritonitis.

Feline enteric coronavirus has little resistance to the environment, and as such it's easily destroyed by high temperatures and disinfectants. This is good to know in order to prevent it.

Feline Coronavirus - What is the coronavirus virus?

What cats are at risk of coronavirus infection?

Feline enteric coronavirus causes a mild but chronic form of gastroenteritis. Many cats are fairly resistant to this disease: these cats will not develop any symptoms, but they can be infected without us knowing. They will become carriers and eliminate the virus through their feces.

Carrying the disease, and subsequently getting over it, causes a type of short-term immunity in cats. This means that the animal can become infected again and pass through the same cycle. Even when the cat lives alone, it can still become infected through its own litter box.

In the case of various cats living together, the risk of infection increases greatly. By sharing the same litter box, the disease can be passed between one cat to another.

But the most dangerous thing about this virus lies in its great capacity for mutation. When it infects other cats with a weak immune system, the development of the virus produces distinct symptoms which pave the way for the disease known as feline infectious peritonitis.

This disease is common in kittens under one year of age and also old, weaker cats, as well as immunodeficient and cats that live in a group.

Feline Coronavirus - What cats are at risk of coronavirus infection?

What are the symptoms of feline coronavirus?

Feline enteric coronavirus causes mild and chronic gastroenteritis, generating symptoms such as the following:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Lethargy
  • Fever

Many cats are quite resistant to the disease. They might not develop symptoms, become carriers and eliminate the viruses through their feces. However, as we said, the danger of coronavirus is its mutation, which results in feline infectious peritonitis (PIF)

What are the symptoms of feline infectious peritonitis?

Feline infectious peritonitis is a disease caused by the mutation of the feline enteric coronavirus. It can manifest itself in two different ways, the dry and wet form.

Dry PIF - Symptoms

In the first, the virus can affect multiple organs, generating a variety of symptoms, such as:

  • Weight loss
  • Anemia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Depression
  • Accumulation of liquid
  • Uveitis
  • Corneal edema

Wet PIF - Symptoms

The wet form is characterized by the formation of fluids in the body's body cavities, such as the peritoneum and the pleura (abdominal and thoracic cavity, respectively). In this way, the symptoms would be:

  • Swollen abdomen
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Constipation
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Swollen kidneys

Fever, lack of appetite and lethary can be observed in both forms. Animals aren't attentive to their environment so it may take time before they react to stimulus.

Feline Coronavirus - What are the symptoms of feline infectious peritonitis?

Feline coronavirus treatment

Being a viral disease, there is no treatment. Most people try treating the symptoms and hoping for a response in the cat's immune system.

Preventative treatments are recommended to avoid the spreading of this disease. Vaccination would be the treatment of choice. If you want to bring a new cat into your family, it's recommended that you make sure it has been properly vaccinated.

Moreover, if you have more than one cat you should have different litter boxes so as to reduce the change of infection spreading between them.

Feline Coronavirus - Feline coronavirus treatment

Is feline coronavirus curable?

As we've previously mentioned, feline coronavirus is typically shed in feces by healthy cats. Feline coronavirus (FCoV) is infectious to cats worldwide, espeically when there are many cats living together in a limited area. This virus is insignificant, that is until the virus is mutated. When this happens, the virus will develop to what we call feline infectious peritonitis (FIP). Unfortunately, feline infectious peritonitis is a lethal, incurable disease.

If you see your cat having one of the symptoms mentioned above, it's crucial you bring them to a veterinarian as soon as possible.

How long is the recovery process?

Cats living in groups can infect each other with different strains of the virus during visits to the communal litter tray. Some cats are resistant to the virus and can avoid infection or even becoming carriers, while others may become FECV carriers. Carriers may heal spontaneously, but acquired immunity may be short, and they may go on to reinfect. Some cats never heal, and the excretory phase remains permanently.

In other words, the recovery process will depend on each cat, their immune system and their home environment. It's crucial that you bring them to a veterinarian as soon as you see any symptoms. This way, your cat will have the correct diagnosis and a better chance preventing that the virus mutates and becomes FIP, the incurable virus previously mentioned.

How to care for a cat with coronavirus

It is important to bring your cat to a veterinarian so they can give you detailed measures to take. Nevertheless, here are some important things to do if your cat has the coronavirus (FCoV):

  • Make sure your cat has a healthy and balanced diet
  • Take extra precautions towards the cleanliness of their litter box
  • Provide more litter boxes if you have more than one cat
  • Make sure to keep up with scheduled vaccination

Can humans get the coronavirus (COVID-19) from cats?

With the recent outbreaks of the coronavirus in humans (COVID-19). Many pet-companions have been asking whether the coronavirus is contagious between species. Before answering this, it's important to mention that coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. They vary from relatively insignificant illnesses such as a common cold, to severe diseases such as the recent Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV-2), that was discovered in 2019. This virus, SARS-CoV-2, causes the 2019/2020 coronavirus disease also known as COVID-19.

According to the World Health Organization, the 2019 coronavirus is zoonotic, meaning that it can be transmitted from animals to humans and vice versa. In fact, they even mention an investigation that found SARS-CoV (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-Corona Virus) transmitted from a civet cats to humans. The WHO also states that from phylogenetics analyses, they've determined that bats appear to be the reservoir of COVID-19, but the intermmediate host(s) have not yet been identified.

The feline coronavirus (FCoV) is placed under the subcategory of all coronaviruses “alphacorona 1”. These types of coronavirus are said to only be contagious to their own species. That means that FCoV is not contagious to humans.

However, if a cat is somehow infected with SARS-CoV-2 and therefore have the COVID-19, this virus can be transmitted to humans. There has not yet been a case presented of someone being infected by a domestic cat. Nevertheless, we know that although extremely rare, it is possible. This is why it's important to bring your cat to a veterinarian as soon as possible so you can determine exactly what virus has infected your cat and understand how dangerous it can be.

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to Feline Coronavirus, we recommend you visit our Viral diseases category.

  • Poder, P. (2011). Feline and Canine Coronaviruses: Common Genetic and Pathobiological Features. Advances in Virology, 609465. 10.1155/2011/609465
  • Tanaka, Y., Sasaki, T., Matsuda, R. (2015). Molecular Epidemiological Study of Feline Coronavirus in Japan Using RT-PCR Targeting Nsp14 Gene. BMC Vet Res, 11(57). 10.1186/s12917-015-0372-2
  • The World Health Organisation (2020) Report of the WHO-China Joint Mission on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).

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Sylvia Cohen-Price
Can my cats contact the human coronavirus?
Administrador AnimalWised
Hi Sylvia,

All current offical reports about the outbreak of covid-19 coronavirus state that this is non-zoonotic, i.e. it can't be spread from animals to humans (not including the possible vector of tainted animal meat when consumed).
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