Feline enteric coronavirus (FeCV) is a common disease of wild and domestic
that is caused by a member of the coronavirus group. The disease is spread from
cat to cat, but requires close and continuous contact with infective
secretions. The incubation period is two to three weeks or longer, but 75
percent of cats exposed experience no apparent infection. Among those who do, a
mild respiratory infection, with a
runny nose or eye discharge, is the most
Cats who recover from mild infection can become asymptomatic carriers. Most
cats who have been infected in this way are not immune to future infections
with the coronavirus. It is estimated that 30 to 40 percent of all cats are
positive for antibodies to FeCV, with that rising to 80 to 90 percent in
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Fewer than 1 percent of all exposed cats will develop the secondary fatal
disease known as feline infectious peritonitis (FIP). Why some cats develop FIP
and others do not is not known for sure. It is believed that FIP is a mutation
of the benign coronavirus and is therefore not contagious. The virus may change
from benign to virulent weeks, months, or even years after the initial exposure
to the coronavirus. Factors that seem to play a part in the change from benign
to virulent are a genetic predisposition, exposure to chronic shedding of the virus, and
living in a multicat environment, which could mean more stress.
It is known that FIP tends to most often affect kittens, cats between 6
months and 2 years of age, and cats older than 14 years of age. Neonatal FIP
has been implicated as a cause of fading kittens. There is a higher rate of
infection in catteries, where conditions are apt to be crowded and there is
greater opportunity for continuous and prolonged exposure. Cats who are poorly
nourished, run-down, or suffering from other illnesses, such as feline leukemia, are most susceptible.
These factors may lower the cat’s natural resistance to FIP.
Despite its name, FIP is not strictly a disease of the abdominal cavity. The
virus acts on capillary blood vessels throughout the body-especially those of
the abdomen, chest cavity, eyes, brain, internal organs, and lymph nodes.
Damage to these minute blood vessels results in loss of fluid into tissues and
body spaces. FIP tends to run a prolonged course. It may go on for weeks before
signs are evident.
FIP occurs in two forms-wet and dry-both of which are invariably fatal.
Wet form early signs are nonspecific and mimic several other feline
disorders. They include loss of appetite, weight loss, listlessness, and
depression. The cat appears to be chronically ill. As fluid begins to
accumulate in the body spaces, you may notice labored breathing from fluid in
the chest or abdominal enlargement from fluid in the abdomen. Sudden death may
occur from fluid in the heart sac. Other signs that accompany the wet form are
fever up to 106°F (41°C), dehydration, anemia, vomiting, and diarrhea. Jaundice and dark
urine are caused by liver failure.