Coronavirus in Cats

Lerarn more about the feline version of coronavirus

cat close up

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Coronavirus is a term used to describe an infection caused by different strains of this virus but different animal species are affected by different types of coronaviruses. Knowing what type of coronavirus a cat can get and what you can do to keep your cat safe is important.

Is Feline Coronavirus Contagious to People (and Vice Versa)?

Feline coronavirus is not the same type of coronavirus that causes respiratory issues in humans. These are different strains of the virus and a lot is still unknown about how cats may or may not be affected by the human respiratory coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2, formerly called 2019-nCoV that causes COVID-19). Over 3,500 pets, including dogs, cats, and horses from all 50 states in the US and South Korea were tested by IDEXX, a major veterinary laboratory, for COVID-19 and all tests were negative but other tests and studies with limited samples showed that cats may be at risk for contracting COVID-19. Cats may be susceptible to contracting COVID-19 from pet owners, but the small number of cats that have tested positive have been asymptomatic or showed mild symptoms. There is also no evidence that cats can spread the disease to people, only to other cats, and it is very rare for a cat to test positive in general. There is still much to be learned about this virus and how it may affect cats and other pets so the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does recommend that if you are infected with COVID-19 to avoid or limit contact with your pets until more information is known about this virus.

COVID-19 and Animals

Although there are some documented cases of animals testing positive for COVID-19, the virus does not appear to have had a major impact on animals. There is currently no evidence that animals can transmit COVID-19 to humans.

USA cases:

  • A tiger and a lion in New York, April 2020
  • Two domestic cats in New York, April 2020
  • A dog in North Carolina, April/May 2020

Other countries:

  • Two dogs in Hong Kong, March 2020
  • A cat in Belgium, March 2020
  • Two mink farms in The Netherlands, April 2020
  • Two domestic cats in France, May 2020
  • A domestic cat in Spain, May 2020
  • A domestic cat in Germany, May 2020
  • A dog and a cat in The Netherlands, May 2020
  • A cat in Russia, May 2020

Some of these animals did become sick. Most are believed to have contracted the virus from infected humans. To date, there is no evidence that animals can spread COVID19 to humans.

What Is Coronavirus in Cats?

Feline coronavirus (FCoV) is a viral disease that causes diarrhea in cats but can also lead to a more serious disease called feline infectious peritonitis (FIP). Because of the risk for developing FIP, feline coronavirus is a concerning virus.

Signs of Coronavirus in Cats

  • Diarrhea
  • Bloated abdomen
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Lack of appetite
  • Yellowing of skin and/or eyes
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Vomiting

Occasionally feline coronavirus can cause severe diarrhea in a cat but it is most often a very mild form if it isn't the strain associated with FIP.

In cats with the strain of feline coronavirus that can cause FIP though, there are more severe symptoms. A decrease in activity and appetite are not uncommon in any cat that isn't feeling well and if left untreated, a cat with coronavirus may begin to lose weight and vomit. FIP can cause fluid accumulation in the abdomen and chest so if the coronavirus caused a wet form of this disease, a cat will have a bloated abdomen or potentially difficulty breathing. Finally, if FIP from a coronavirus has caused organ damage, yellowing of the skin and eyes may occur if the liver is affected and an increase in thirst and urination may be seen if the kidneys are compromised.

Causes of Coronavirus in Cats

Different strains of feline coronavirus can cause this disease in cats and researchers are not positive on the exact route of transmission. They know it is spread from cat to cat, but this spreading could be through feces, saliva, and even urine, making it highly contagious between cats.

Diagnosing Coronavirus in Cats

After a full history is obtained and a physical examination is performed on your cat by a veterinarian, a fecal sample will be collected to screen for parasites, bacterial and toxin overgrowth, and other microscopic reasons for the diarrhea to occur.

Blood tests and X-rays may also be performed if the disease is severe enough to rule out other diseases or look for changes that may indicate the cat has FIP. If the FIP form of coronavirus is suspected and excessive amounts of fluid are present in a cat's abdomen or chest, a sample of the fluid may also be obtained in order to run a special test for FIP. Overall, it is difficult to get a definitive diagnosis of coronavirus due to inaccurate test results and the inability to differentiate between different strains of coronavirus that will or will not cause FIP. Because of this, diagnosis is typically made based on the cat's symptoms.

Treatment of Coronavirus in Cats

Coronavirus that causes diarrhea is simply treated symptomatically using medications and supplements to firm up the stool but coronavirus that causes FIP is not able to be treated as easily. There is no cure for FIP, so symptoms are managed as long as the cat's quality of life is still good.

How to Prevent Coronavirus in Cats

Since coronavirus in cats is very contagious, it is important to keep your cats away from cats that have it. If your cat has coronavirus, you should also refrain from bringing in any new cats until it has passed away and dispose of everything that cat used, especially litter boxes, before getting a new one. It can be very difficult to get rid of the virus from an environment, especially if multiple cats had it, since no one knows for sure how it is spread.

A vaccine for FIP is available for cats but its use and effectiveness is controversial. Discuss the pros and cons of this vaccine with your veterinarian.