Coronavirus is a virus causing sudden infection in dogs and cats. It invades the rapidly growing cells of the intestinal lining resulting in nausea, lack of appetite, vomiting and diarrhea. The disease can vary from showing no signs of illness at all to severe illness. However, coronavirus does not result in the same degree of illness associated with parvovirus and panleukopenia virus for dogs and cats, respectively..
Infection is generally attributed to ingestion of material contaminaed by feces (stool or bowel movement) and can occur when a pet smells or licks the ground; direct contact with another pet is not necessary for infection. Coronavirus is shed in the feces of infected pets for months after initial ingestion. Pets at highest risk for infection are puppies and kittens.
Dogs (Click here for Cats)
Kennel environments and dog shows have led to outbreaks of coronavirus.
Dogs of all ages can be infected, but puppies and younger dogs are more susceptible. Unsanitary and/or overcrowded kennels may increase your pet’s chance of infection and concurrent infection with parasites, other bacteria or viruses may also increase susceptibility to infection.
Proper vaccination of your pet can prevent the disease, but not all veterinarians advocate vaccination for Corona.
What to Watch For
•Loss of appetite (anorexia)
•Diarrhea (often containing foul-smelling blood)
These are all common symptoms that should prompt you to visit your veterinarian.
The signs of coronavirus are similar to parvovirus, so the initial diagnostic tests will likely include a parvoviral test, to rule out the presence of this virus. For a definitive diagnosis of coronavirus infection, isolation and identification can be done in some specialized labs.
However, since coronavirus is rarely fatal and readily responds to supportive care, most veterinarians diagnose corona based on typical clinical signs, ruling out other causes of gastroenteritis such as intestinal obstruction and a negative parvo test. Your veterinarian will probably recommend diagnostic tests and, depending on severity of illness, a 24-hour hospital stay for treatment.
Tests May Include
•Complete medical history and physical examination
•Blood tests, stool examination and abdominal X-rays to determine the severity of the infection or exclude other causes of the symptoms.
Therapy is dependent upon the severity of the clinical symptoms. Therapy may include:
•Constant intravenous (IV) fluid therapy, antibiotics and/or other drugs used to control nausea and vomiting may be administered.
•Injectable fluids under the skin and medications for home care in mild cases.
•Allow your pet to rest and regain his strength.
•Feces should be picked up and kept from other dogs, because most likely they contain the virus.
•Once vomiting has stopped, encourage water intake. Offer your pet a small amount of water and a bland diet. Your veterinarian may recommend a prescription diet.
•If your pet is not eating or drinking, is continually tired, vomiting and/or still has diarrhea, call your veterinarian. It takes a few days for stools to normalize.
•Vaccinate your pet regularly to help prevent infection. (NOTE: Immunity to coronavirus develops after infection, but it is necessary to schedule booster immunizations (“shots”) with your veterinarian to protect from other viruses).
•Minimize contact of unvaccinated puppies with other dogs that may be sick or unvaccinated. This should include avoiding areas where other sick pets may have been. Your pet is most at risk until fully vaccinated (usually 20-24 weeks of age).
Cats (Back to Top)
Feline coronavirus (FoCV) is a virus that causes mild symptoms in most cats. In rare instances (1%) it can lead to a condition called feline infectious peritonitis (FIP). Not all cats with feline corona virus get FIP, but for those who do, it is a devastating condition and the leading infectious cause of cat death. FIP is almost always fatal. The virus works by infecting the white blood cells. The infection is spread from cat to cat who are in close contact.
The virus appears at least 2 weeks after infection. Most cats when exposed do not contract the disease. If your cat has a mild form of the virus they will exhibit symptoms such as runny nose or discharge from the eyes and then recover.
Even if your cat recovers they could still be a carrier that could possibly infect other cats. The virus can survive up to 7 weeks in dried up cat feces and is mostly seen in multicat households.
Feline Infectious Peritonitis
There are two forms of feline infectious peritonitis. There is the acute form, known as “wet” or effusive FIP, and there is the chronic form, known as “dry” or noneffusive FIP. About 75% of all cases are acute, meaning they come on suddenly.
In acute feline infectious peritonitis, fluids accumulate in the body cavities (that’s why it’s called “wet” FIP). Primarily, these fluids accumulate in the abdomen and in the chest cavity, where they cause difficulty breathing by compressing the lungs.
In chronic feline infectious peritonitis, fluids are not a problem. Instead, lesions develop on organs. Neurological symptoms may result, such as seizures or paralysis. Kidney or liver problems may occur. Weight loss, depression, anemia, and fever are common.
While these sound like two very different diseases, they are not. The determining factor as to which form a cat will get is the strength of the cat’s immune defense when faced with the virus. A cat with a strong immune system will probably get the “dry” form. A cat with a weaker immune system will get the “wet” form. A cat with a very strong immune system may not get FIP at all but become a carrier of the virus.
Feline Corona Virus Diagnosis
Blood tests can determine whether a cat has been exposed to feline corona virus by checking for antibodies to the virus. However, the test cannot distinguish between feline corona virus and FIP. A diagnosis of FIP is made based on a cat’s symptoms, x-rays, lab results, and evaluation of the fluid buildup.
There is no cure for feline corona virus. Once a cat has the virus, she will have it for life. It may or may not lead to feline infectious peritonitis.
There is no cure for feline infectious peritonitis, and the disease is almost always fatal. The only treatment is supportive care, which may consist of corticosteroids, antibiotics, good nutrition, etc. in order to keep the cat as comfortable as possible.
There is a vaccine for FIP, but its use is controversial. It will not help a cat that has been exposed to feline corona virus, and in fact if given to a cat that has been exposed to the virus, it may increase her risk of developing FIP. It is often not recommended for cats that live in low risk (households with one indoor cat) environments. Owners are advised to discuss the pros and cons of the vaccine with their veterinarian.
Roger L. Welton, DVM
Founder and Chief Editor, Web-DVM.net
President, Maybeck Animal Hospital
Article updated 8/21/2012