Feline Coronavirus Infection

Feline coronavirus is characterized in two ways: feline enteric coronavirus, of FECV, and feline infectious peritonitis virus, or FIPV. The type of coronavirus that a cat has is important to determining how threatening the infection will be to him. Feline enteric coronavirus is usually mild and has few symptoms, if any. FECV has the very real possibility of converting to FIPV, which is highly dangerous and usually deadly.

Transmission of Feline Coronavirus

Feline coronavirus is very common in cats who are not vaccinated and those who live in shelters and remain in close contact with other cats. Feline infectious peritonitis remains an uncommon disease in cats, and affects roughly only one percent of the entire cat population. Feline enteric coronavirus, on the other hand, is much more common. While it is not entirely dangerous on its own, the fact that the virus can mutate into feline infectious peritonitis makes it a more susceptible disease.

Both types of feline coronavirus have only one method of transmission: saliva. This is why feline coronavirus is so highly contagious and common among shelter cats. Shelter cats tend to share the same food and water bowls and live in close quarters, where bodily fluids are easily exchanged.

Effects of Feline Coronavirus

When feline enteric coronavirus is present, the symptoms are generally mild and most likely will not afflict a cat in any way. The most common complaint for this strain of the virus is mild diarrhea. If a cat is able to fight off FECV, there will likely be no harm done and he will go on to live a normal life.

If, however, a cat is not able to fight off the feline enteric coronavirus and the virus mutates into feline infectious peritonitis, it is almost certain that he will die from the infection. The symptoms of FIP are much more pronounced and can include any of the following:

  • Excessive diarrhea
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sudden unexplained loss of weight
  • Decreased appetite

Diagnosing Feline Coronavirus

Feline coronavirus can be easily detected with a blood test. Blood testing will determine if a cat's immune system has developed antibodies to the coronavirus and if so, will produce a positive result. What is unfortunate about feline coronavirus is that a blood test does not have the ability to distinguish between FECV and FIP. Only a firm grasp of the symptoms can determine whether or not FECV has mutated into FIP.

Treating Feline Coronavirus

Unfortunately, there is currently no method of treatment for either strain of the feline coronavirus. Once a cat has been diagnosed with feline coronavirus, it's irreversible and will remain with him for life. The only caution with the virus is its ability to become the feline infectious peritonitis virus.

In most cases, feline enteric coronavirus will not make the conversion to feline infectious peritonitis. If it does, there is no treatment other than antibiotics for secondary conditions and pain, to counteract the fluid buildup that typically accompanies the disease.

There is a vaccine available for feline coronaviruses, but it has not been determined to be fully effective at preventing the transmission of the disease. Likewise, the vaccine has been shown to increase the likelihood of FIPV when a cat has already been exposed.