Coronavirus: What You Need to Know

There are all kinds of felines in this world. Each comes with varying appearances and personalities — some are easier, some more challenging, and some are overlooked just because they are little bit different or have medical problems that sound scary and intimidating. For that reason, we’ve devised this quick fact sheet to help you better understand coronavirus, which is a common but often poorly defined virus afflicting many of the cats we interact with in our everyday lives.

1. What is coronavirus?
Coronavirus is a common viral infection in cats, which is especially prevalent among individuals in multi-cat environments such as colonies and shelters.

2. How common is coronavirus?
Estimates vary, but recent blood test surveys performed by the Veterinary Centers of America indicate that up to 50 percent of cats in single cat households and 80 percent to 90 percent of cats in multi-cat environments become infected at some point in their lives.

3. Is coronavirus contagious?
Yes, cats become infected through the ingestion or inhalation of virus-containing feces or through contact with contaminated materials (ie. litter boxes, housing). Transmission between a mother and her kittens is also common. Most cats will only shed the virus through their feces for a few months after infection, but approximately 13 percent will shed the virus continuously for life.

4. What are the symptoms of coronavirus? What treatment is required?
The majority of cats with coronavirus are asymptomatic and will require no treatment or intervention. A small percentage of those infected develop diarrhea, which may require a long-term treatment plan involving probiotics and a veterinary-prescribed gastrointestinal diet.

In approximately five to 10 percent of infected cats, the virus will mutate into FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitis), which is fatal. It is unknown why this virus mutates in some cats and not others, but cats under two years of age appear to be at higher risk. Even amongst this age group, the percentage of cats that develop FIP is still extremely small.

5. Will coronavirus decrease my cat’s life expectancy? What day-to-day care will they require?
Those cats infected with coronavirus who do not develop FIP do not have decreased life expectancies when compared to non-infected cats. Like all pets, coronavirus-positive cats will require annual vet visits and access to a high-quality diet. Asymptomatic individuals do not require any special treatment or intervention.

Those cats who develop diarrhea may require probiotics and/or a veterinary prescribed diet on a short or long-term basis. These cats are NOT any more likely to develop FIP than asymptomatic individuals.

– Katie Phillips (with help from Nina Yanko)

References and Further Reading:

Merck Veterinary Manual 

VCA 

Cornell University