Feline coronavirus: Will the outbreak killing cats in Cyprus reach the UK?

By Lottie Kilraine, Multimedia Producer

A form of coronavirus is threatening Cyprus‘ cat population, with animal rescuers issuing warnings over a new strain of the deadly disease.

The outbreak of Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP), which is caused by Feline Coronavirus, is thought to be spreading in parts of the island, which is famous for its huge population of domestic and feral cats.

Concerned veterinarians have witnessed a rise in cases of FIP being reported from the start of the year, and say it has already resulted in the deaths of hundreds of cats.

Feline Coronavirus cannot be transmitted to humans and is different from the coronavirus that caused the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, FIP is a highly infectious and potentially fatal disease for cats, and there is currently no approved vaccine for use in the UK.

Keeping less than four cats together in a home will reduce the transmission of Feline Coronavirus. credits: PA

Should UK pet owners be concerned?

The short answer is no.

FIP has not yet arrived in the UK, but cat owners should still be cautious, particularly if you plan on taking your pet on holiday this summer.

The virus is spread through contact with the faeces of an infected cat.

It is possible that this strain of Feline Coronavirus could come to the UK, if an infected animal is brought into the country.

Dr Alison Richards, Cats Protection’s head of clinical services, told ITV News: “Occasionally strains of Feline Coronavirus emerge that develop more frequently into FIP, and this is what is believed to have happened in this outbreak in Cyprus.

“Veterinary professionals in Cyprus and globally are working hard to determine this strain and are recommending the testing of cats ahead of their movement out of the country to prevent spread to other parts of the world.

“Currently the outbreak is confined to Cyprus, and it is thought that the large number of stray and free-roaming owned cats contributed to this outbreak.”

Will my cat die if it catches FIP?

Currently FIP is a relatively uncommon disease in the UK, the majority of cats exposed to Feline Coronavirus will not go on to develop FIP.

Many cats will have exposure to Feline Coronavirus at some point in their lives, and this becomes more common in pets that live in multi-cat households.

However, the good news is that new medications have been developed recently that have improved cats’ chances of survival if they do suffer from FIP.

PDSA vet Catherine Burke told ITV News: “Although Feline Coronavirus is common in pet cats in the UK, especially those that live in groups, most cats will not develop FIP.

“More commonly, infected cats remain healthy, or have just mild gastrointestinal signs such as diarrhea.”

If you are concerned about your cat for any reason, it is advisable to take them to the vet. credits: AP

How do I know if my cat is infected?

If you are concerned about your cat for any reason, it is advisable to take them to the vet for an examination.

The main signs your cat could be suffering from Feline Coronavirus include:

Ms Burke added: “Some cats will have difficulty breathing, may look bloated and go off their food. It’s important to contact your vet for advice if your cat shows any of these symptoms.

“There are many other illnesses that have similar symptoms so it isn’t easy to diagnose.

“Your vet may need to do bloods, scans or take fluid samples from your cat if they are suspicious of a FIP infection.”

Is there a cure for FIP?

There is currently not a licensed vaccine for Feline Coronavirus in the UK.

Keeping litter trays, food and water bowls clean, and keeping less than four cats together in a home will reduce the transmission of Feline Coronavirus.

Stress can also play a role in the development of FIP so reducing the stress your cat experiences may help.

The Cat’s Protection has further advice on the causes of stress for catsand tips on how to avoid it.

Many cats will have exposure to Feline Coronavirus at some point in their lives. credits: PA

What measures are being taken in the UK to prevent the spread of FIP?

Currently there is no evidence that this particular strain of FIP has spread beyond Cyprus.

Vets and scientists in Cyprus and across Europe are working to produce a test to identify this particular strain and are calling for all cats to be tested ahead of leaving Cyprus.

Information about the outbreak has been shared in the veterinary press so that UK based vets are aware of the situation and can be vigilantes if an increase in case numbers are seen in their patients.

Charity centres, such as the Cats Protection, will be monitoring cats in care closely for any signs of disease, and the RSPCA has been issued guidance to cat owners.


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