What is the difference between feline coronavirus (FCoV) and Covid-19?

People also ask: ‘is feline coronavirus the same as covid-19?’ And in a strict sense, the answer is no. It may surprise cat owners that before all this talk about the ‘coronavirus pandemic’ and how Covid-19 can infect cats via a transmission from people, domestic cats have suffered from feline coronavirus (FCoV) for a very long time. Feline coronavirus is a common viral infection in cats and in general the cats are asymptomatic and the virus can cause mild diarrhoea. It is also believed that the virus that causes FCoV can give rise to mutants that lead to the development of feline infectious peritonitis disease (FIP).

Coronavirus, so called because ‘corona’ means ‘crown’ which refers to the viruses appearance. Picture in public domain.
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The first point to make is that we have a slightly confusing situation in that there are two coronaviruses at least (and I bow to superior knowledge on that) which affect domestic cats but all the focus nowadays is on a new coronavirus called Covid-19 (which is also called SARS-CoV-2).

There is a scientific and technical difference between these two viruses: FCoV and Covid-19. The video below tells us that the virus which we call Covid-19 is only 63% similar to the feline coronavirus and that similarity affects 25% of the genome.

Taking mouth and nose swabs from tigers at Miami Zoo to test for Covid-19
Taking mouth and nose swabs from tigers at Miami Zoo to test for Covid-19. Screenshot.

An important difference is that Covid-19 is zoonotic, as we fully know, because it is believed that the disease infected people from bats or other animals (pangolins) in a wet food market in Wuhan, China. That is the current theory and that hasn’t changed for a long time. However, what vets call ‘feline coronavirus’ or ‘FCoV’ is specific to cats and it cannot be transmitted from cats to humans, as I understand the disease (but see the last paragraph). One last point is that if a cat gets Covid-19 from a human they can then transmit it back to another human.

This is a currently debated topic because some scientists believe that animals of various species might become a reservoir for the disease in the future. So once we have squashed Covid-19 into submission it may re-emerge. This is because within the animal population there might be a reservoir of this virus waiting to be transmitted to people. That’s why there may be a vaccination programme for animals in the future.

The video below might be of interest to those with a scientific bent or indeed those with plenty of scientific knowledge with respect to viruses and the genetic make up of these viruses. They are significantly different although the names are significantly similar! The video is presented by by Alan Radford, RCVS Knowledge Quality Improvement Advisor and Professor in Veterinary Health Informatics at the University of Liverpool.

‘Coronaviruses are characterized by a significant capacity for genetic change that enables them to adapt to new hosts…sometimes causing zoonotic outbreaks…(study: Feline and Canine Coronaviruses: Common Genetic and Pathobiological Features).

Note: videos on this site are typically made by people other than me and held on YouTube servers or the servers of other businesses (not the server storing this website). Sometimes the videos are deleted at source which stops them working on this site. If that has happened I apologise but I have no control over it.


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