For many of us, “coronavirus” was an unfamiliar word before the COVID-19 pandemic, but doctors have been dealing with coronaviruses for decades. Coronaviruses were the cause of SARS and MERS infections in humans and veterinarians regularly treat cats, dogs, pigs, and cattle for diseases caused by various strains of the virus.
There are currently no approved treatments for coronaviruses—in humans or animals.
After years of study, veterinarians know that, in animals, the majority of coronaviruses reproduce in the gastrointestinal tract and usually cause only mild intestinal issues that resolve without medical intervention.
However, one disease, feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), is often fatal. FIP occurs when an intestinal coronavirus mutates and infects white blood cells. When this happens, the virus (FIPV) leaves the intestine and travels throughout the body. In many cases, a strong immune system response eliminates FIPV before an infected cat experiences any symptoms. But, sadly, if clinical signs of FIP appear, there’s nothing vets can do. The disease progresses rapidly and is nearly 100% fatal. FIP is the leading cause of death in kittens and young cats.