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Coronavirus and FIP.

Species: Cat
Breed: domestic medium hair
Age: 2-5 years
I recently adopted a cat from overseas, and I found out later he was housed briefly with a cat that tested positive with a high titre for the corona virus. I had Romeo tested, and my vet said his titre was low, in a range where he was not worried about it, so he has been exposed, but I shouldn't worry. I was told that most strays are carriers, and this cat was a street cat. My other 3 cats are former strays as well, but I have never had them tested for this, as I have never heard of corona virus before now. My question is: Is it ok to let Romeo out among my other cats? He has been housed in one room up until now. Thank you, jude


Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

Thanks for asking this question. I often see people confused about coronavirus issues in cats, so hopefully I can help explain the situation for you.

Coronavirus is really really common amongst cats. Anywhere from 20% to 90% of the cat population will be positive coronavirus if tested. (The higher numbers are for catteries and shelters).

If a cat gets coronavirus they may have a few days of diarrhea. After that, the cat gets over the virus, but they will still have antibodies in their system for quite some time. What that means is that several years later, if you tested for coronavirus, you can still see that the cat tests positive.

So, if coronavirus just causes mild diarrhea, why do we get so concerned about it? The problem is that a small percentage of cats (some sources say 2-5% and others say as high as 10%) have a genetic problem where their body can mutate coronavirus and turn it into a nasty thing called FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitis). There is no cure for FIP. It can cause fluid in the abdomen or lesions called granulomae to form in organs. FIP is fatal.

Years ago, I used to run the test that your cat had which tells us whether the coronavirus titre is negative, low positive or high positive. The thought was that cats with a high positive test would be much more likely to go on to have FIP. Newer research, however, shows that this is not true.

Unfortunately it can be hard to determine if a cat really does have FIP. If there is abdominal fluid we can test for coronavirus in the fluid. Often what we do is combine several things to determine if there is a risk. Cats with FIP usually have weight loss, a fever that comes and goes and their albumin/globulin ratio in their bloodwork is usually lower than 0.3. There are other possible symptoms as well.

So should you worry about the fact that Romeo is coronavirus positive? In my opinion, no. If we isolated every cat that has ever been exposed to coronavirus, there would be a lot of unhappy cooped up cats in the world. The real problem that causes FIP is the genetic issue that 2-10% of cats have that can mutate the coronavirus. Really the coronavirus is not the culprit.

Hopefully that answers your question. It can be a confusing topic so please feel free to respond if you have more concerns.

Dr. Marie.


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Disclaimer: Although Dr. Marie is a qualified veterinarian, the information found on this site is not meant to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. AskAVetQuestion.com and Dr. Marie do not accept any responsibility for any loss, damage, injury, death, or disease which may arise from reliance on information contained on this site. Do not use information found on this site for diagnosing or treating your pet. Anything you read here is for information only.

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Dr. MarieDr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.

Is an online vet visit just as good as a trip to your veterinarian? No! But, many times, asking an online veterinarian a question can help save you money. While Dr. Marie can't officially diagnose your pet or prescribe medications, she can often advise you on whether a vet visit is necessary. You can also ask Dr. Marie for a second opinion on your pet's condition.