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

cat at the vets

What is Feline Coronavirus (FCoV)?

Feline coronavirus is a common virus that mainly affects the intestinal tract. Neither FCoV nor FIP are transmissible to dogs, humans, or other species.

What are the symptoms of FCoV?

In most cases, it will cause mild diarrhoea, but in some cases, no symptoms at all. The lack of symptoms can make it difficult to diagnose and treat. It is important to monitor your cat’s behaviour and if you notice anything out of ordinary, take them to see a vet.

How is FCoV transmitted?

Feline coronavirus is transmitted when ingested, usually through grooming or eating off contaminated surfaces. FCoV is shed in an infected animal’s faeces and can survive in the environment for several days to a few weeks. The virus can easily be destroyed with a regular disinfectant, but where a cat doesn’t show symptoms, and a number of cats live together, the virus can spread very quickly.

How common is feline coronavirus?

It is a very common virus in domestic cats and kittens. Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP), however, is a much rarer but often fatal mutation of the FCoV virus.

How does FCoV cause Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)

Feline infectious Peritonitis (FIP) occurs when a feline coronavirus mutates.  It is unknown how or why this occurs in some cats and not others, although it is suggested that it may be due to a poor immune response or an immature immune system. Stress brought on by rehoming, overcrowding, medical procedures, or a concurrent illness could also increase a cat’s risk of developing FIP.

What are the symptoms of FIP?

Initial signs of the disease are not particularly obvious, as no clear symptoms are unique to FIP. Symptoms may fluctuate over several days, weeks, or even months. Initial signs are:

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite

There are two forms of the disease, wet or effusive FIP and dry or non-effusive FIP. A cat can develop one or a combination of the two forms of the disease. As well as continuing to show the above symptoms a cat with FIP will go on to show some or all the following symptoms:

  • Distended abdomen
  • Their coat will look dull and unkempt
  • Diarrhoea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Anaemia
  • Jaundice
  • Eye inflammation
  • Loss of vision and coordination
  • What are the risk factors?

Young cats with the immature immune system are at an increased risk of going on to develop FIP following an FCoV infection. Kittens and young cats under 2 years old are most susceptible to developing FIP.

Is Feline Infectious Peritonitis contagious to other cats?

Despite FCoV being a fairly common infection, a relatively small number go on to develop FIP. It is estimated that the incidence of FIP in household cats is 1:5000, rising to 1:20 in catteries and households with 5 or more cats. While FCoV is highly infectious, FIP is not transmissible, as it is a progression of the symptoms as a result of the virus.

How is FIP diagnosed?

Following a thorough physical examination, the vet will undertake a complete blood count, an IFA or ELISA test to see if coronavirus antibodies are in the cat’s system. A PCR test and a sample of abdominal or thoracic cavity fluid are carried out to help diagnose FIP. Although none of these tests will confirm a diagnosis of FIP, a combination of results consistent with FIP, will make a diagnosis more likely. A biopsy of infected tissue is the only way to confirm the condition. However, surgery would cause unnecessary stress to the cat, and they may be too sick to undergo the procedure anyway. A definitive diagnosis of FIP is often only made on post-mortem examination.

What treatment will my cat receive?

In the past FIP was fatal for most cats. However, in the last 3 years, a number of significant developments have occurred in how FIP is treated. In resent year there have been a number of studies that have shown certain antivirals can be effective in curing FIP. Unfortunately this has led to a growth in illegal supplies of these types of medications, being sold to understandably worried cat owners. Since 2021 a legal supply of remdesivir and GS-441524 has been available in the UK and Australia, and via export to other countries. Please click here for more specific information about these drugs and speak to your vet to discuss treatment options if your cat is diagnosed with FIP (information supplied by the cat fertility clinic).

A further success story on the use of Remdesivir by the RVC (Royal Veterinary College University of London)

How can I prevent my cat from developing FIP?

There is no vaccine for FCoV or FIP in the UK.  A vaccine is available in some other countries. However, its poor reliability and the uncommon occurrence of FIP do not generally warrant its use.

Once your cat has been infected with FCoV, there is no way of knowing whether it will go on to develop FIP. If your cat has FCoV or has been exposed to the virus, taking steps to avoid stressful situations, such as vaccinations, neutering or overcrowding, may help prevent the development of FIP.

Find the right treatment for your pet

There are many viruses and diseases out there that your pet could be susceptible to, so knowing how to spot the signs and symptoms is essential in helping them get treated faster. Home Health offers a range of pet testing kits and treatments for various conditions and infections, from diabetes to flea collars. Ensure both you and your pet are healthy and happy by staying informed of all the important health information on our website.