Coronavirus in Cats

Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

cat close up

All copyrights reserved by Harris Hui / Getty Images

Feline coronavirus (FCoV) is a common multi-strain virus that affects cats. It rarely causes serious symptoms, but it can cause diarrhea and may also lead to a fatal disease called feline infectious peritonitis (FIP). Coronavirus is highly contagious among cats, so it's important to isolate infected cats that show symptoms of illness. Currently, there is no reliable vaccine for FCoV.

COVID-19 in Cats

Feline coronavirus is not the same virus as COVID-19. Although there are some documented cases of animals testing positive for COVID-19, the virus rarely causes severe illness in animals, including cats. To date, there is no evidence that animals can spread COVID-19 to humans. The risk of pets contracting the virus from humans is more concerning.

What Is Coronavirus?

Feline coronavirus (FCoV) is a common group of viral strains that can cause illness in cats. Infection is usually asymptomatic, and the virus generally leaves a cat's body after the infection runs its course. However, FCoV can occasionally cause gastrointestinal distress or chronic infection, and certain strains may initiate the development of feline infectious peritonitis (FIP).

Symptoms of Coronavirus in Cats

Feline coronavirus is usually asymptomatic or causes mild symptoms. Those cases that are symptomatic should be closely monitored for the development of life-threatening feline infectious peritonitis.


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

Occasionally, feline coronavirus can cause severe diarrhea in a cat, but it is most often a very mild illness.

Uncommon strains of feline coronavirus are associated with the onset of feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), and these cause more severe symptoms. Cats may begin to lose weight and vomit, but their abdomens may grow because FIP can cause fluid accumulation in the abdomen. Pressure on the chest and lungs will cause labored breathing.

If FIP from a coronavirus causes liver damage, then yellowing of the skin and eyes may occur. If the kidneys are affected, then a cat will show an increase in thirst and urination.

Causes of Coronavirus

Different strains of feline coronavirus can cause this disease in cats, and researchers are not certain about the exact route of transmission. They know it is spread from cat to cat, but this spreading could occur via the following routes:

  • Saliva
  • Feces
  • Urine

Diagnosing Coronavirus in Cats

It is difficult to get a definitive diagnosis of coronavirus due to unreliable testing methods and the inability to differentiate between different strains of coronavirus. Because of this, diagnosis is typically made based on a cat's symptoms.

Since diarrhea is the most common symptom, your veterinarian may collect a fecal sample to rule out parasites or bacterial overgrowth before suspecting FCoV.

Blood tests and X-rays may be performed to look for changes that may indicate the cat is developing FIP, such as excessive amounts of fluid in the abdomen or chest. A sample of the fluid may be obtained to test for FIP.


A coronavirus infection that causes mild symptoms like controllable diarrhea is simply treated symptomatically with medications and supplements to solidify the stool.

However, coronavirus cases that trigger FIP are easily treated and are generally limited to supportive measures to help maintain a cat's quality of life for a limited time.

Currently, studies are underway to explore the efficacy of the antibiotic doxycycline to inhibit feline coronavirus and, in turn, feline infectious peritonitis. While this is not yet common practice, it is worth mentioning to your veterinarian if your cat develops signs of FIP.

Prognosis for Cats with Coronavirus

Mild cases of feline coronavirus usually resolve with no treatment or minor support for diarrhea. Cats infected with coronavirus strains that cause FIP, however, are at a much greater risk of fatality. Most cats with FIP will die.

How to Prevent Coronavirus

Since coronavirus is very contagious among cats, it is important to isolate cats that have it. Make sure to use separate food and water dishes as well as litter boxes, and replace these with new ones after your cat recovers.

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

Is Coronavirus Contagious to Other Animals?

Feline coronavirus is highly transmissible among cats, but it does not spread to other species. Dogs are affected by canine respiratory coronavirus (CRCoV), for which there is a vaccine. If a cat tests positive for FCoV (or the virus is suspected), isolate the ill cat during the course of the disease to avoid infecting other cats.

Is It Contagious to Humans?

Feline coronavirus is not the same type of coronavirus that causes respiratory issues in humans and is therefore not transmissible from cats to people.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.
Article Sources
The Spruce Pets uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. What You Should Know about COVID-19 and Pets. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  2. Feline Coronavirus (FCoV) RT-PCR. Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.

  3. Overview of Feline Infectious Peritonitis. Merck Veterinary Manual.

  4. Mechanism of Action of Doxycycline in Inhibiting Feline Infectious Peritonitis Virus. Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.

  5. Overview of Feline Infectious Peritonitis. Merck Veterinary Manual.