“Coronavirus?” I took the thick red folder out of my Aunt Susan’s outstretched arm, her brand new kitten Paige on my heels, chasing the long string of yarn that Susan had tied to my belt loop. Susan had adopted Paige only the day before and the animal shelter had sent home a plethora of information about feline coronavirus.
“I’ve never heard of feline coronavirus before”, I remarked as I flipped through the stack of papers, full of words I couldn’t understand or pronounce. “I hadn’t either”. Susan agreed. “But before I signed the adoption papers, even though I had already decided I wanted to adopt her, they made sure I knew what I was getting myself into. Apparently Paige caught the virus from another cat while living as a stray”.
“Well is it serious?” I asked, watching Paige roll around on the floor with a toy mouse. “It depends”. Susan explained. “The signs can vary depending on the cat. Some cats have coronavirus and it’s not a big deal— they don’t have any symptoms and you wouldn’t guess they have it. They’re a carrier and spread it to other cats, but don’t seem sick themselves. Others have gastrointestinal symptoms, like Paige has been having diarrhea. For most of them, their immune system is able to fight off the virus eventually. But for some of them, the virus turns into FIP, which stands for Feline Infectious Peritonitis. That’s where it can get serious in some cases. FIP is fatal”.
Concerned for Paige, I bombarded her veterinarian with questions at the next kitten vaccine booster appointment. He said coronavirus is not serious in many cases, but anyone who adopts a cat with the virus needs to be aware of the possible risk of FIP. Although the number of cats who develop FIP is low, it is impossible to determine which cats will develop FIP. He also explained there are two types of FIP, which are referred to as “wet” and “dry”. Both types can include loss of appetite, lethargy, and fever. Symptoms of the wet type also include a swollen abdomen and fluid in the chest. The dry type is much more difficult to diagnose because the symptoms can point to a lot of different diseases. Some cats can appear to be normal for weeks, and others quickly become seriously ill.
Because there is no vaccine for feline coronavirus, I worried I might accidentally spread it to my cat after visiting Paige. But her veterinarian told me that as long as I wash my hands after petting Paige and make sure I don’t have any of her feces on my clothes, the chances of spreading the disease to my cat were low. He explained the disease is spread primarily among cats who live together and are exposed to each other’s feces. For example, infected cats living in multi-cat households can pass the virus to each other through litter-box use.
The chances of Paige developing FIP are not high, but the shelter made sure Susan was completely aware of the risk before adopting. Even though Susan understood the possibility, she decided she wasn’t going to let feline coronavirus come between Paige and a home.
Coronavirus can be spread in areas where multiple cats live closely together and most often affects kittens and senior cats. Feline coronavirus is often not serious, but in some cases can become Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP), which is fatal. There is no vaccine for coronavirus or FIP. The best way to prevent your cats from becoming infected is to keep cats separated from new cats who have not yet been examined by a veterinarian. The number of cats who develop FIP is low, but it is important for anyone who adopts a cat with coronavirus to be aware of this possible risk.