13 / 100

Coronaviruses have gained notoriety in recent weeks: A coronavirus has spread from an animal market in Wuhan, China, and has infected thousands of people. For many cat owners the alarm bells are ringing: “Coronavirus – does it also exist in cats?” Correct – but don’t panic! We explain why the feline coronavirus is safe for humans.

A big family: the coronaviruses

Coronavirus in Cats: Is There a Danger for Humans? 7

Coronaviruses are common worldwide and among numerous species. On their surface they have protuberances that are reminiscent of a halo – hence the name “Corona” for Latin “wreath”. Various coronaviruses can affect humans, mammals, birds, and even fish.

They trigger many diseases with different symptoms.

The pathogen that triggered the SARS pandemic in 2002/2003 also belongs to the large coronavirus family. But most coronaviruses only lead to a harmless runny nose. The coronavirus emanating from China at the beginning of 2020 can lead to severe pneumonia, especially in immunocompromised and elderly people. Scientists temporarily call the hitherto unknown virus “2019-nCoV”.

And which coronavirus affects cats? This is the Feline Coronavirus (FCoV), which has little in common with the human coronavirus.

The feline coronavirus – what does it cause in cats?

The feline coronavirus is also causing sad celebrities among cat owners. Because it can lead to the notorious FIP, Feline Infectious Peritonitis. The disease is one of the most common causes of death in domestic cats, especially kittens. There is no therapy.

However, only five to ten percent of the animals infected with the coronavirus develop FIP.

In its original form, the FCoV triggers intestinal inflammation with mild to moderate diarrhea – and is relatively harmless.

The mutated coronavirus and FIP

How is FIP created? The feline coronavirus mutates spontaneously and then affects not only the digestive tract but the entire body of the cat, including the organs. When and why the virus will mutate cannot be predicted. Young or old age, a weak immune system, or stress, for example, favor the risk of a mutation.

In addition, some breeds, such as Holy Burma, are said to be more likely to develop FIP. The mutated virus triggers different inflammatory reactions in the liver, spleen, and central nervous system. These lead to effusions in the chest and abdomen typical of FIP and many other symptoms. The killer cells of the animal immune system cannot recognize the mutated viruses and are therefore powerless. By the way: cats can become infected with the canine coronavirus in dogs, which leads to intestinal inflammation but not to FIP.

Can people get infected with the feline coronavirus?

Coronavirus in Cats: Is There a Danger for Humans? 8

The virus, which is spreading around the world from Wuhan, China, comes from an animal market. It is therefore suspected that it originates from animals. There was a trade-in of numerous animal species at the animal market in Wuhan. These include eagles, porcupines, foxes, wolf pups – and snakes. Scientists have now confirmed that the coronavirus, which will be rampant in 2020, was transmitted from snakes to humans. Researchers assume that it was originally “native” in bats, but has now been passed on to humans via snakes. It is not the first time that a wave of infection has emanated from a Chinese animal market: The SARS wave from 2002/2003 can be traced back to the infection via larvae rollers, a certain crawling cat species.

But the Feline Coronavirus, which has been known for decades, is host-specific. It fits certain proteins on the cat’s cell surface like a key in a lock. Some bat species’ cells resemble their human counterparts. This makes the possible transmission of viruses more likely.

Neither the Feline Coronavirus nor FIP is contagious to other animal species or humans!

Coronavirus: infection among cats

Almost fifty percent of all cats in Germany come into contact with the coronavirus – only five to ten percent of them get FIP. The coronavirus infection occurs mainly through feces. Infection via the saliva and thus via common bowls is only possible for a short period of time. Cat droppings get stuck under the feet of the four-legged friends and can spread oversleeping places and floors. The greatest risk of infection is where several cats live together in a confined space. For example in animal shelters or boarding houses as well as with free-living cats at feeding places.

What increases the infected cat’s risk of developing FIP?

Above all kittens from the sixth week of life develop FIP.

The viral load and thus the probability of a mutation increase, for example, if the litter box is not cleaned properly. Other illnesses like cat flu, a weak immune system, stress, or certain medications like cortisone also increase the risk of FIP. Some experts also suspect an influence of the canine coronavirus. As such, the FIP mutation is unlikely to be contagious. This means: Affected animals can pass the coronavirus on, but not FIP.

What is the point of a test for coronavirus?

The “FIP test” detects antibodies against the coronavirus in the cat’s blood. The problem: a positive test doesn’t mean the cat has FIP, just that it has had contact with the virus. This applies to around half of the cats in the world. A positive test for coronavirus can have the following reasons:

The cat…

  • has FIP;
  • has successfully fought a coronavirus infection, the antibodies are left;
  • has a harmless coronavirus infection;
  • was vaccinated against FIP.

Even a negative test allows several conclusions. In the case of a symptom-free cat, it means: it is healthy. In the final stage of FIP, it is possible that the antibodies can no longer be detected using a test.

Feline coronavirus: diagnosis and therapy

An infection with the “harmless” coronavirus is easy for healthy animals to survive, which is why extensive tests are not useful. The cat’s body fights the pathogens. But how can a veterinarian reliably diagnose FIP if the “FIP test” is not very meaningful? If the virus can be detected in the blood, it cannot be distinguished from the mutated form.

A special feature of the dangerous coronavirus variant is that it is distributed throughout the cat’s body outside of the digestive tract with the help of certain cells. The vet can find them during a puncture or when examining nerve water – under anesthesia – and prove FIP. However, their absence is not an exclusion criterion for FIP. Veterinarians often use the Rivalta sample to detect FIP. They examine the punctured fluid from the abdomen or chest cavity. Put this in a test tube filled with water and glacial acetic acid. If a certain type of drop formation occurs, it is very likely to be FIP.

If the diagnosis is “FIP”, this corresponds in most cases to a death sentence.

There are few exceptions to the “dry FIP”. There is no therapy. If the cat has severe symptoms, the vet recommends euthanasia.

What does the vaccination against the coronavirus bring?

Coronavirus in Cats: Is There a Danger for Humans? 9

The injection often referred to as the “FIP vaccination”, is a vaccination against the coronavirus. It only makes sense in cats that have tested negative for the coronavirus. Even with them, it does not offer one hundred percent protection. However, the animals tolerate them well and there is no risk of the vaccination triggering FIP. If the cats already have antibodies against the virus, vaccination can be harmful. Since the vaccine is only approved for animals from the age of 16 weeks, many kittens have become infected by this time. Your vet will help you weigh the chances and risks of vaccination for your cats.