The feline coronavirus is not, and I stress not, transferable to people. And there’s no such thing as canine coronavirus.
The feline coronavirus is a highly contagious intestinal infection that causes few problems in most infected cats. In some cats, however, the intestinal form of the feline coronavirus mutates and gives rise to feline infectious peritonitis, called FIP, a disease that is generally fatal. The feline coronavirus is highly contagious and the virus is usually from swallowed and contaminated material. Most infected cats intermittently shed the virus. Even though feline coronavirus is inactivated by most disinfectants, it may remain in the environment for long time.
The feline coronavirus may cause no signs or only mild diarrhea. FIP tends to affect cats younger than 2 years and elderly cats. One form of FIP causes fluid to form in the chest and abdomen. This can cause a fever, difficulty in breathing and a distended abdomen. The other form of FIP is called the dry form, which can affect the brain and cause seizures. It can also affect the back of the eye and cause severe inflammation and even blindness; sometimes difficulty in breathing may be seen. Fever and weight loss are very common with the dry form.
The best method to diagnose FIP is to obtain tissue samples from the abdomen or chest. There is a new DNA test of the feces called a PCR test that can also be performed. X-rays often show fluid in the chest or abdomen, especially with the wet form of FIP. A blood biochemistry profile usually shows increased blood proteins, as well as abnormal liver and kidney tests.
Treatment for FIP is often unsuccessful and the disease is usually fatal. Supportive care with nutritional supplementation, removal of chest and abdominal fluid, intravenous fluid therapy and antibiotics for secondary infections may help prolong and improve the quality of the cat’s life. Cats with FIP should be isolated from other cats.
At this time there is no effective vaccine against feline coronavirus. Cats that are harboring the feline coronavirus and have not developed FIP have a good prognosis and can live long and happy lives. Cats that have the coronavirus that has mutated into FIP have a very poor prognosis and often live less than a year after the diagnosis has been made. If your cat has had weight loss, lethargy and has been running a fever, see your veterinarian and discuss whether feline coronavirus is a concern.
Dr. Karsten Fostvedt is a veterinarian at St. Francis Pet Clinic in Ketchum.