The word Coronavirus probably is more frightening and intimidating now than ever before. With the CoVID-19 pandemic along with everything else going on in this world, pet lovers may be wondering:

Are my animals safe from Coronavirus? Can I give my cat CoVID? Can they give it to me? 

Don’t fret! This blog will cover everything a fur parent needs to know about Coronavirus in cats.

What is Coronavirus in Cats?

What is coronavirus in cats
Feline Coronavirus or FCoV is prevalent among cats of all ages, domesticated and wild. However, feline Coronavirus is most dangerous in kittens and seniors. Often, it passes by without the owner even batting an eye.

FCoV commonly causes diarrhea as the immune system fights to eliminate the virus through fecal matter. Coronavirus in cats spreads through feces and saliva.

How is Coronavirus in Cats Transmitted?

While cats are shedding the Coronavirus, other uninfected cats are in danger of catching the virus.

Coronavirus spreads through the sharing of litter pans and grooming.

Example:

Let’s say Whiskers has Coronavirus. After about a week of contracting the virus, Whiskers is doing his business in the litter pan just like he always has, only this time he is shedding FCoV along with this morning’s breakfast.

Later, Fluffy, Whisker’s sister from another mister, uses the same litter pan to do her business. Fluffy later grooms herself by licking her paws and has now ingested feline Coronavirus. If Fluffy wasn’t infected before, she most likely is now.

Is Coronavirus in Cats Contagious?

Is coronavirus in cats contagious
Yes, Coronavirus is contagious to other cats, though most cats will only experience mild symptoms like:

  • Watery eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Nasal discharge

Many of these symptoms can go unnoticed or be confused for one of many causes of cat cough.

In most cases, no clinical intervention is necessary to manage the signs and symptoms of FCoV. Only supportive care and attention for a cat’s full recovery.

Is Coronavirus Contagious to Other Cats?

Yes. Feline Coronavirus is contagious to other cats. Therefore, cats around several other kitty friends are more likely to acquire FCoV than those who are not. Coronavirus in cats can also live in the environment for several weeks. 

Top Two Places Cats Acquire Feline Coronavirus?

  1. Animal shelters (or places like them)
  2. Multi-cat homes

Animal Shelters (or places like them)

Since Cat Coronavirus is known to transfer between felines who share litter pans, animal shelters are commonplace the virus spreads quickly.

A study showed that cats who spent more than 60 days in a shelter are five times more likely to have FCoV than those who spent less than 60 days in a shelter. Hence the urgency of the quick turnaround for homeless and abandoned animals.

Multi-Cat Homes

Cat lady? That’s cool! Cats need homes, but multi-cat homes lead to multi-cat litter pans. The spread of FCoV in multi-cat homes usually begins with the introduction of a new cat.

As mentioned above, a cat from a shelter is more likely to have FCoV the longer they are there. Therefore, introducing a new cat to your existing pet, especially if they are from an animal shelter or similar, can be stressful enough without worrying that you expose old Smoky to the virus.

Here are a few things to avoid contamination:

  • Offer separate litter pans
  • Have several litter pans
  • Keep litter pans as clean as possible
  • Scoop waste from litter pans as often as possible

Is Coronavirus in Cats Contagious to Humans?

No. Some coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are carried by animals and transmitted to humans. You may remember some of these coronaviruses rearing their ugly heads in years past, like avian flu and H1N1.

However, this virus is specific to the feline species and is not transferred to humans, dogs, ferret, chinchillas, or any other pet you may have in the house. Coronavirus in dogs is an entirely different beast.

…But what about…?

Nope, not even then will you or your other pets be susceptible to this version of the virus!

CoVID-19 in Cats

Covid-19 in Cats
Of course, an article on Coronavirus in cats would not be complete without a section on CoVID-19 (SARS-CoV2) and the relationship between the two.

Yes, CoVID-19 has significantly freaked everyone out for a good reason. One infected person may be fine, while another person of similar prior health may suffer extreme or even fatal consequences.

“But can I get CoVID-19 from my cat?”

No. Though there have been a couple of cases in the UK of domesticated pets showing signs of CoVID-19 after their owners tested positive, it is unknown if they actually had CoVID-19 or another fatal disease that led to their deteriorating health.

Though CoVID-19 and FCoV are both Coronaviruses, they are completely different viruses. Like apples and oranges, or mangos, and some fruit that has nothing to do with mangoes. The point – is they are not the same.

CoVID-19 is specific to humans and is not typically contagious to pets, while FCoV is specific to cats and not contagious to humans.

Think of CoVID-19 as a suit that your animal could plausibly wear instead of something they are transmitting. So, for example, if a cat tests positive for CoVID-19, they contracted it from either their owner or other infected humans petting them, not the other way around!

If you have CoVID-19, refer to the CDC’s guide on what to do when you’re sick.

What Causes Coronavirus in Cats?

Causes of Coronavirus in Cats
Coronavirus in cats is caused by a single strand virus that spreads quickly from cat to cat.

When a cat ingests coronavirus, the virus ends up in its small intestine, where the immune system then decides how it will handle the upcoming battle.

Some cats can contract and spread feline Coronavirus while appearing to be asymptomatic. Others can develop from very mild to very severe symptoms due to an unfriendly mutation of FCoV or Coronavirus in cats.

There are two ways in which Coronavirus in cats manifests.

  1. Feline Enteric Coronavirus or FECV
  2. Feline Infectious Peritonitis Virus or FIPV

Feline Enteric Coronavirus or FECV

About 90% of cats in multi-cat homes will acquire some strain of Feline Coronavirus in their lifetime. Most of these strains do not cause disease. These strains are called Feline Enteric Coronavirus.

Cats experiencing FECV may appear to have no symptoms, but they are still ridding themselves of the infection through feces. Fluffy may be acting the same as any other day, with a normal appetite and typical stools.

Sometimes FECV can cause gastrointestinal discomfort in cats, causing some crummy symptoms. However, the most common side effect of FECV is diarrhea.

Symptoms of FECV include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal Pain
  • Lethargy
  • Fever

Although these symptoms are undesirable, parents can typically handle these with a bit of coddling and extra support. First, of course, consult your vet for more insight.

What Is The Incubation Period For FECV?

FECV causes fecal shedding as the immune system tries to eliminate the infection. Shedding will begin to occur about one week after initially infected.

Substantial fecal shedding and can continue for 2 – 10 months after initial exposure. Shedding can linger for 24 months; some cats may even shed the virus indefinitely.

Signs & Symptoms of Coronavirus in Cats

Symptoms of coronavirus in cats
Feline Enteric Coronavirus (FCEV)  Vs. Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)

FCEV Vs. FIPSigns & SymptomsTreatmentIs it Fatal?
Feline Coronavirus (FECV)
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal Pain
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Many cats won’t show any symptoms.
Keep litter clean to avoid re-infection or cross-contamination.

Consult your vet if symptoms become chronic

No. FCoV may pass without the owner even noticing the cat was infected.

FCoV is expelled through the feces until the infection is gone.

Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)
  • Effusion in abdomen and chest
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Anemia
  • Uveitis
  • Depression
  • Failure to grow
Sadly, there is no treatment for FIP at this point.Yes. FIP has a 100% mortality rate. Heartbreaking.

Feline Infectious Peritonitis Virus or FIPV

In about 5% of cats with FCoV, a devastating mutation occurs, causing Feline Infectious Peritonitis Virus. However, there is much more to learn about the disease and its cure.

The mutation of Coronavirus in cats to Feline Infectious Peritonitis is believed to be due to:

  • An abnormal immune response to the virus
  • A predisposed genetic variant or abnormality

When a cat’s immune system cannot withstand Coronavirus, it does not stop at the intestines. The virus instead attacks the macrophages, causing the antibodies that would usually protect against bacteria and infection to attack and infect the white blood cells.

FIPV then spreads through the body, causing several signs and symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms of FIPV in Cats

  1. Effusion in abdomen and chest
  2. Weight loss
  3. Anemia
  4. Uveitis

Effusion In Abdomen and Chest

Effusion is the escaping of fluid into different body cavities and organs. Cats with FIP will often have a severe inflammatory response to effusion wherever there are infected cells. Often the infected cells end up in the worst places like:

  • Brain
  • Kidneys
  • Abdomen
  • Chest

Weight Loss

Weight loss is a common sign in any animal that something is going on under the surface. For example, cats may lose weight due to discomfort, lack of appetite, depression or lethargy.

Anemia

Anemia is often more like a sign of an underlying disease than a diagnosis of its own. Anemia occurs when the body is no longer producing red blood cells like it once did. Anemia can be a sign of FIP as the immune system wages war against itself.

Uveitis

Uveitis is a relatively common and painful eye condition in cats caused by inflammation of the uveal tract. The uveal tract is the layer of tissue between the outer layer (cornea) and the eye’s inner layer (iris).

Inflammation of the uveal tract often leads to damage and the breakdown of protective barriers of the eyes. Uveitis can lead to extreme discomfort, severe sensitivity to light and even blindness.

Are Some Cats More Susceptible to the FIP Mutation Than Others?

FIP Mutation in Cats
Any cat with feline Coronavirus can develop FIP, but several things can make a cat more likely or vulnerable.

  • Having a compromised immune system
  • Preexisting leukemia disease
  • Cats who are not spayed or neutered
  • Geriatric cats
  • Purebred cats
  • Male cats

Is FIP Contagious to Other Cats?

It can take several months for a Feline Infectious Peritonitis infected cat to show clinical signs of the virus. Therefore, by this time, the cat has mostly likely expelled most of if not all of the virus.

Remember, FCoV causes the viral infection that mutates into FIP. Coronavirus in cats will only mutate into FIP in 5% – 10% of infected cats.

Coronavirus and FIP in Kittens

Though a cat may be infected with Feline Coronavirus at any age, kittens are more susceptible for a few reasons, including:

  1. Mother to kitten transmission
  2. Underdeveloped immune system
  3. Stress
  4. Purebred

Mother To Kitten Transmission

Mother-to-kitten transmission of Coronavirus of the most common and sure-fire ways a cat acquires the infection. Kittens who nurse from an infected mother will have feline Coronavirus, but the development of FIP is still rare.

Underdeveloped Immune System

As with many viral and bacterial infections, a compromised immune system will be more susceptible to an invasion. A Mainecoone kitten may grow up to be a big strong cat, but it is more vulnerable to infection and illness than adult cats at the beginning of its life.

Stress

In cats and humans alike, stress can trigger the release of cortisol. Cortisol is the naturally occurring chemical that triggers the fight or flight response. The response is excellent in a dangerous situation, but continued stress causes higher susceptibility to illness, infection and suppresses the immune system.

Purebred

Some studies have shown a definite correlation between purebred cats and the FIP, though some purebred cats are still more likely to develop FIP than others.

Coronavirus in Kittens

Reason for VulnerabilitiesWhy?
Mother to kitten transmissionMother’s milk is one of the most common ways cat’s get FCoV
Underdeveloped ImmunityKittens are more susceptible to all diseases and infections
StressKittens are more susceptible to stressors leading to immunosuppression
PurebredPurebred cats and kittens are more likely to develop FIP than mixed breed cats.

Is Coronavirus Deadly in Cats?

Coronavirus in cats itself is not fatal to our feline friends.

90% of cats who frequent catteries and shelters have FECV, but only about 5% of cats will develop FIP due to a mutation of FECV, most of them being asymptomatic.

The mutation of Feline Coronavirus to Feline Infectious Peritonitis, however, is almost always fatal.

You may wonder, is there anything I can do to prevent my cat from developing the mutation?

FIP is pretty rare and utterly unfair to its victims. The mutation can happen to any cat, but you can do a few things to lessen the likelihood of FIP development.

  • Spay or neuter your pets
  • Keep litter boxes clean
  • Keep cross-contamination to a minimum
  • Stay up to date on vet visits and vaccines.

Unfortunately, when it comes to FIP, there’s not much you can do. Once the virus has reached an organ, things usually start to progress quickly.

Coronavirus in Cats Treatment

Treatment for coronavirus in cats
Treatment of Coronavirus in cats and FECV is mainly centered around supportive care. Cats can benefit from the basic things like:

  • Healthy nutrition
  • Hydration
  • Rest

Is There a Cure for Coronavirus in Cats?

Cure for coronavirus in cats
Curing Coronavirus in cats and avoiding the possibility of FIP is a case that has perplexed scientists for years. Though there have been studies and talks of cures and proactive measures, those methods have not been progressing as hoped.

Last year, there were talks of a new miracle drug that could reverse the FIP signs.

Unfortunately, the process involves daily injections of a thick solution.

However, in clinical trials, the solution did work to reduce or reverse signs in some cats. 

Is There a Vaccine for Coronavirus in Cats?

Vaccine for coronavirus in cats
Yes, there is an intranasal, non-core vaccine that may help prevent feline Coronavirus. The FCoV vaccine is safe for healthy kittens 16 weeks and above in two sessions, one month apart.

The mutation of Coronavirus in cats to Feline Infectious Peritonitis is still not well understood. In addition, because there is no treatment for the FIP, a vaccine introducing antibodies of the virus into the body is a very delicate process. Though the vaccine’s efficacy has often been unsuccessful, scientists are taking strides for a better vaccine in the future. 

Conclusion: Don’t Freak Out

Cut it out! Feline Coronavirus is very common. Even if a cat does get Coronavirus, FIP is the only serious worry, and there’s still only a 5% chance they will develop Feline Infectious Peritonitis. 

FIP is a terrifying diagnosis, but please don’t let it deter you from giving animals homes who need them. One of the best things to prevent the possibility of Coronavirus is getting cats out of crowded animal shelters and into their new, loving, purrfect, fur-ever home.

Follow a veterinarian’s advice as well as the helpful advice in this blog to keep your multi-cat household as anti-FCoV as possible.