What chance is there of the deadly cat coronavirus in Cyprus spreading to the UK?

In answer to the question in the title, the chances are very slim, as I see it, but please read on.

A lot is currently been spoken about the “deadly cat coronavirus” in Cyprus which has ostensibly killed 300,000 cats but which I have said is an impossible statistic [link to that article]. The so-called deadly coronaviruses is, in fact, feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) a.k.a. feline enteric coronavirus (FeCV).

FIP is contagious but how contagious?
Illustration for FIP. Cats are often asymptomatic. Image: MikeB
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

I am a layperson. I am not a veterinarian but in order to answer the question in the title I’m going to try and apply logic and common sense. If you disagree with me then please comment.

This disease is spread from cat to cat. It is therefore contagious. But how contagious? It requires close and continuous contact with infected secretions. Note the words ‘close’ and ‘continuous’.

So, let’s try and visualise how it might happen. Let’s say you’ve got a cat rescue organisation in which the cats are allowed to go into a communal area. They will bump into each other. If they are fed from shared bowls, they will exchange saliva. These are ideal conditions for the spread of the disease. Where there are many stray cats living in colonies the disease is more likely to spread through infected secretions.

But there would have to be quite dense populations because there has to be continuous contact between cats and their secretions.

If FIP is going to travel from Cyprus to the UK it must mean that a domestic cat which caught the disease and which developed symptoms of a mild respiratory infection and then recovered became an asymptomatic carrier and this cat was transported to the UK.

That cat would then have to be in continuous contact with another cat in the UK. This is would be one infection. To have any notable impact there would have to be thousands. You can see the barriers and they are substantial.

I think the danger of the deadly cat coronavirus spreading to the UK is very low. The Times has a quite alarming headline which implies that there is a realistic danger but I don’t see it like that.

And I need to add that an estimated 30-40% of all cats are positive for antibodies to this disease. That means that they have been exposed to it and created antibodies which circulate around the bloodstream. In catteries the figure is 80-90%.

But even when they can get the disease, 75% of them experience no apparent infection. Those that do have a mild respiratory infection. And of all the cats exposed to this disease fewer than 1% develop the secondary infection known as feline infectious peritonitis which is invariably fatal. There is no cure but there is, apparently, a vaccine for it. As at the date of my reference book, Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook, 2008, they stated that this vaccine is “not currently recommended as part of the routine vaccination schedule because it’s effectiveness has not been proven”.

Vaccine for feline infectious peritonitis in 2023?

The Cornell Feline Health Center tells me that “there is only one licence FIP vaccine available but this vaccine has questionable effectiveness in preventing FIP and it is not routinely recommended by the American Association of Feline Practitioners Feline Vaccine Advisory Panel. The conclusion there is that there is no vaccine at the moment on my interpretation.

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Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

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