Cats: Coronavirus

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs written question – answered at on 16 November 2023.

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Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what steps his Department is taking to tackle the reported threat of the hybrid of an existing feline coronavirus arriving in the UK.

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

We are aware of this case of Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) in an imported kitten from Cyprus and the subsequent diagnostic testing and sequencing carried out at Edinburgh University and the Roslin Institute.

Feline Infectious Peritonitis is caused by a mutation in a common feline coronavirus (FeC). This strain of virus is unrelated to those which cause SARS, SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans) or MERS. Most infections with feline coronavirus cause a mild diarrhoea but sometimes, if the virus mutates within the cat, it can cause a severe infection and in vulnerable kittens can cause high mortality. FeC is often found in multiple cat households, cat shelters and feral cat colonies, as is the case in Cyprus where many cats have died of FIP.

At present, we understand this is an isolated case and there has been no transmission to other cats in contact with the kitten, but we are following the work closely through APHA’s Small Animal Expert Group to understand whether this has the potential to become an issue for the UK cat population. FeC is not a notifiable or reportable pathogen in the UK and there are no trade rules or quarantine rules for cat imports relating to FeC or FIP.

There are guidelines provided by the British Small Animal Veterinary Association for how to deal with outbreaks in cat shelters, where spread can happen quickly and with certain highly pathogenic strains, can lead to high fatality rates.

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