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Feline Coronavirus in Cats (FCoV) Symptoms and Treatment

Feline Coronavirus (FCoV) is a widespread viral infection among cats. While often asymptomatic, it can lead to mild diarrhea. Mutations in the virus, which are not fully understood, can result in feline infectious peritonitis (FIP). Most cats clear the virus after infection, but some may carry it persistently without symptoms, shedding large amounts in feces and posing a risk to other cats. Persistent circulation of FCoV within cat populations may increase the likelihood of virulent FIP strains emerging. Although the pathogenesis of FIP remains unclear, identifying and isolating persistently infected cats in multi-cat households is believed to reduce FIP risk.


Responding to heightened interest in the cat breeding and ownership communities, Cornell University's Animal Health Diagnostic Center now offers a fecal RT-PCR test for FCoV. This test detects asymptomatic shedding cats, allowing for isolation measures or prevention strategies within cat populations. Samples for fecal RT-PCR screening require 2-5 grams of fresh feces, with careful identification of the sample source crucial in multi-cat households to avoid inaccurate results. Samples should be stored in sealed plastic bags to prevent dehydration.


In suspected clinical cases of FIP, the test can also identify FCoV in ascites fluid, blood, plasma, serum, or fresh tissues like kidney, liver, or spleen. Samples should be shipped in leak-proof containers with ice packs via overnight courier for optimal testing outcomes.

Interpreting fecal FCoV RT-PCR tests requires caution; single positive or negative results may be unreliable due to intermittent shedding or recent infection. A cat must test positive for fecal virus over multiple tests spanning eight months to be considered a chronic shedder. Conversely, a cat consistently testing negative over five months may be deemed a non-shedder.


In clinically symptomatic cats with signs of FIP, FCoV RT-PCR positive results on fluids or tissues suggest active FIP, while positive results in tissues from clinically healthy cats indicate FCoV infection without FIP symptoms.


How Does Feline Coronavirus (FCoV) Spread?

Feline coronavirus can spread through direct contact among carrier cats. Typically, a healthy cat can contract the virus by coming into contact with the feces of an infected cat, followed by grooming. Additionally, airborne transmission is also possible, with higher incidence often observed in spring and fall months. Cats sharing food and water bowls or litter boxes are at increased risk of infection. Even indoor cats have the potential to contract the virus. FCoV can also be brought into homes through external items such as clothing and belongings.


Can the Virus Transmit from Cats to Humans?


Research indicates that the coronavirus seen in cats does not transmit to humans, showing no cross-species transmission risk.


How Common is Feline Coronavirus (FCoV)?


According to various studies, a significant number of cats (up to 40% in single-household cats and up to 90% in multiple-household or stray cats) contract Feline Coronavirus. Despite this high prevalence, an estimated average of about 5% of these cases progress to Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP). The reasons behind this mutation are not clearly understood.


Feline Coronavirus Treatment


Treatment focuses mainly on supportive care and management of symptoms, especially in cases where Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) develops. Here are some key aspects of treatment and management:


Supportive Care: It is very important to provide supportive care to manage symptoms such as diarrhoea, dehydration and lethargy. This may include fluid therapy to maintain hydration, nutritional support and medications to relieve symptoms.


Management of FIP: FIP is a serious and often fatal disease caused by FCoV mutations. Treatment of FIP is challenging and typically involves palliative care to improve quality of life. Corticosteroids and immunosuppressive drugs can be used to reduce inflammation and manage immune responses, the best known and most effective drug is the Gs-441524 FIP Vaccine. 


Prevention: Prevention focuses on reducing the spread of FCoV among cats. This includes maintaining good hygiene practices, such as regular cleaning of litter boxes and food/water bowls, and minimising contact between healthy and infected cats.


Vaccination: While there is no vaccine specifically for FCoV, vaccinations against other diseases can help maintain general health and reduce the risk of concurrent infection, which can worsen the situation in a cat already affected by FCoV.


Given the complex nature of FCoV and FIP treatment and management should be tailored to the condition and needs of each individual cat. Regular monitoring and prompt veterinary care are essential in managing the disease and promoting the welfare of the affected cat.

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