Fight Feline Coronavirus Like a Warrior!

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Dr Anuradha Nema
In the global pandemic of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) that has claimed so many lives all over the world, the disease is still spreading and things are looking bleak. Experts believe that the massive COVID- 19 outbreak is some way related to over-exploited human- animal interface.
Animals play a key role in maintaining ecological balance. Any interference, destruction or over-exploitation of animals or animal products may lead to disasters, loss of animals, affecting our environment. The speculation of transfer of infection from animals to humans and vice-versa is making the rounds. Feline coronavirus infection causes one of the most fatal Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP). Let’s find out more about this. FIP is an immune-mediated disease triggered by infection with a feline corona virus (FCoV). FCoV belongs to the Family Coronaviridae, a group of enveloped RNA viruses commonly found in cats and it is not infectious to human. FCoV infection occurs both in domestic and wild cats, and other felid species are also susceptible, especially Cheetahs in captivity.
 
Transmission trail of feline coronavirus
The infection is a major problem in multi-cats households, majorly because of shared litter boxes. The virus is endemic in environments in which many cats are kept together in a confined space (like catteries, shelters, pet stores, etc). FCoV is less common in free-roaming community cats, because they do not typically use the same locations to bury their feces. FCoV is shed mainly in the feces. Infection is generally via the oral and nasal route. After natural infection, cats begin to shed virus in feces within one week. In early infection, it may be found in respiratory secretions and urine. Rarely, virus can be transmitted through mutual grooming, sharing the same food bowl, and through close contact. Sneezed droplet transmission is also rare but possible. It is uncertain whether FCoV transmission occurs to a significant degree at cat shows. Transmission by lice or fleas is considered unlikely. Transplacental transmission can occur but is very uncommon under natural circumstances. FCoV infection can cause mild diarrhea and/or vomiting due to replication of FCoV in enterocytes. Kittens infected with FCoV may have a history of stunted growth or upper respiratory tract problems. Occasionally, in some cases where the pet is unresponsive to treatment and the virus continues to grow for months severe diarrhea and weight loss can be witnessed. However, most FCoV infected cats do not show clinical signs and that depends on immunity of the host.
 
Types of FIP
Clinical signs of feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) vary depending on organ involvement. Many organs, including the liver, kidneys, pancreas, central nervous system, and eyes can be involved. Three different forms of FIP were distinguished.
 
1. Effusive, exudative, ‘wet form’
It is characterised by effusion (fluid buildup) in abdomen that causes shortness of breath, abnormally rapid breathing, open-mouth breathing, and even cardiovascular abnormalities.
 
2. Non-effusive, non-exudative, granulomatous, parenchymatous ‘dry form’
Dry form causes fever, weight loss, lethargy, and decreased appetite. If the lungs are involved in, it may also cause difficulty in breathing. Abdominal palpation may reveal enlarged lymph nodes and irregular kidneys or nodular irregularities.
 
3. Mixed form
Cats with FIP frequently have ocular lesions (lesions on the surface of the eye causing irritation). The lesions are usually multifocal. The most common ocular lesions are retinal changes, appearance of fuzzy grayish lines on either side of the blood vessels. Occasionally, granulomatous changes are seen on the retina. Uveitis is another common manifestation. There can be slight colour change of the iris and cloudiness of the anterior chamber. Apart from ocular lesions, skin lesions are also common in mixed form.
 
There’s hope with treatment
Treatment of cats with FIP remains frustrating and is limited to the cases that respond favorably within the first few days. The prognosis for a cat with FIP is very poor. Seizures are an unfavorable prognostic sign. And these are significantly more frequent in cats with marked extension of the inflammatory lesions to the forebrain. Cats who show no improvement within three days after treatment initiation are unlikely to show any benefit from therapy and survival becomes tough. The aim of treatment is to suppress the immune overreaction, usually using corticosteroids. However, there are no controlled studies that indicate whether corticosteroids have any beneficial effect. The other treatment options include – immunosuppressive drugs and supportive therapy. The supportive therapy involves fluid and nutritional support to maintain and improve their quality of life.
 
Bring up preventive shield for better control
If you have multiple cats in your home the chances of FCoV endemic increase manifolds. Maintaining regular hygiene is a great way to combat infections.
Some other measures include –

  • Regular vaccination for FCoV/FIP and other feline viruses.
  •  Reducing the number of cats (especially of kittens less than 12 months old) by practicing early weaning.
  •  Frequent removal of feces (the primary source of coronavirus).
  •  Isolation of cats that test positive for corona virus antibodies.
  •  Isolation and testing of cats after they show symptoms.
  •  Proper sanitation and cleaning using disinfectants.
  •  Increasing number of litter boxes (1 litter box per 2 cats).
  •  Enhance heritable resistance by adopting Pedigree analysis on the basis of disease incidence, as corona virus infection in cats has a strong genetic influence.

Don’t get carried away by risk
Think rationally! Don’t get carried away by risk. Although coronavirus shared with animals, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and the latest COVID- 19 are responsible for severe respiratory disease outbreaks in people, there is no indication that FCoV can be transferred to people. So, be a responsible pet parent and take care of yourself and your pets in these tough times.
(Dr Anuradha Nema, CV Sc & AH, is Assistant Professor in Rewa and Dr Vichar Nema is Deputy Commandant, SSB Academy, Bhopal, MP)