Guide for Corona virus management.
I decided to put in the paper and share my experience regarding Corona virus since I managed to control the problem encountered in my cattery (which has quite a few cats), with a sanitary protocol made by a veterinarian that specialises in felines and it proved to be very efficient.
The first thing would be in my opinion to understand the virus itself so I will leave all the most important links to be read by all breeders aiming to achieve an optimal Corona management.
Corona became a “super virus” since cats are solitary animals and not made to share anything and particularly not a litter tray. In the nature, cats never get in touch with excrements of other individuals and even cats who are allowed to roam freely, most of the time, do not need a litter tray. This non natural closeness, allowed the virus to evolve in an optimal and non natural way becoming a real treat to catteries, shelters or any enclosed cat community.
A few questions have been raised concerning a pre disposition of certain bloodlines to FIP but at the moment there is no proof pointing at this direction. There is the opposite, a gene that shows a resistance but nothing proves at the moment that some lines could have a “weakness” and pre disposition to FIP.
Several breeders pointed the fact that we see more cases with one line or another but we often also observe on these precise lines pedigrees with higher inbreeding CO than others: Consanguinity leads to poorer immune system and FIP is closely related to the cat’s immune system. Therefore it is wise to also lower the ancestral COI in our future matches gradually taking this point in consideration when choosing a match.
I basically own nearly one cat of each Siberian bloodline and I had the opportunity to make several matches and raise babies in different manners and I will publish these “experiments” here at the end of the article with precise examples.
Since at the moment there is nothing concrete that could prove or disprove a predisposition to FIP and since the disease is not yet fully understood, it is wise to avoid repeating matches that generated FIP kittens.
The main weakness in my opinion are cats with poorer immune system and cats who shed the virus permanently for long periods of time. The “shedders” are more to blame in my opinion than an entire “bloodline”. The main pre disposition factor would be inbreeding producing individuals with a weaker immune system and these may become permanent shedders.
Creating matches with a lower inbreeding COI is wise when it comes to FIP, but like said above, it would be also wise to look the total ancestral inbreeding COI on the 5 last generations.
If you take a cat that has a higher inbreeding COI, then you outcross mating to a non related cat resulting in a match with a low inbreeding COI: it is great but you also should observe ancestry when choosing your matches. Several inbred ancestors and then an outcross to bring the inbreeding COI down is good but will not erase the fact that there might be a number of inbred ancestors.
When choosing a match try to also think about how many inbred ancestors there will be on mother’s and father’s side.
The ideal would be an inbreeding COI equal or smaller than 5%.
Genetic factors could lead to cats that shed the virus constantly but cats that are subjected to a lot of stress on their day by day life, may also shed constantly the virus and therefore creating a permanent Corona focus among the group with high level of Corona constantly exchanged between cats.
I tried to target the main points but I realised quite soon that several aspects are closely related and if we want to go to the root of the problem, it all starts very early with each cat purchase.
I will try here to create small themes but a consistent sanitary protocol will include many different aspects from the condition of each individual to desinfection and dealing with kittens.
Stress and fatigue
What are the factors that may result in a stress or fatigue for cats?
Cats are the “masters of disguise” regarding stress. When an individual shows signs of stress or any sort of “weakness” it is because the problem is already at an advanced stage since the cat will hide any form of weakness for as long as it will be possible.
Make small groups of cats who live in harmony. This is extremely important.
You should also provide one litter tray per cat or a minimum of 2 large trays for one group of 3 cats.
These trays should be cleaned twice a day and changed/disinfected every 3 or 4 days. Use quality litter that stays clean longer. You can also use clay litter like Everclean that is known to help to reduce the presence of the virus in the tray. You should avoid clay litter for pregnant cats and kittens.
Another big problem: the NUMBERS! Make sure you only buy a number of cats that you can cope with in a COMFORTABLE WAY
Also make sure you do not buy many cats at the same time. Give a space of at least 8 months or more between cat purchases. This will allow the previous cats to get rid of Corona or at least stop shedding since after the big stress of a trip, most arrive in the new home shedding the virus.
After a trip there is more chances the cat will be shedding and if you have many arriving in a short time, you will end up mixing cats from different catteries who are shedding.
Cats love routine, calm, harmony and attention! So if you have a very active life or a life that is prone to change overnight for professional reasons, if you work out long hours, you must limit the number of cats or rethink the cattery “project” because it won’t work if you cannot provide a stable life, routine and presence.
When you keep a kitten, try to think about temperament: “zen” cool cats are less subject to stress. The ideal kitten is good in size and type but also easy going and not shy.
TRIPS AND RELOCATION.
Avoid moving cats that are less than two years old.
We all know that cats under the age of 2 years are more exposed to Corona mutation than older cats with a stable and mature immune system.
Shared studs, foster home, stud service: it is extremely practical being able to share a stud, providing stud service or being able to benefit from it but it can also represent a DANGER.
So the ideal is to avoid moving cats under 2 years of age.
If your stud is young and is in foster home, try to bring older females to him and vice versa. The cats who will move are always the OLDER ones and spare any possibility of big stress for younger cats.
Also remember to avoid sharing litter tray during matings.
Fatigue factors are especially related to trips, but also heats can be extenuating since some females stop eating during heavy heat periods, same for males who could stop eating if the are hearing females calling. Lack of food can lead to fatigue and heats to stress.
If you sell a show kitten abroad, put in the contract an interdiction of showing the cat before at least 6 months after arrival. The trip will be already difficult for the cat and if shortly after the cat has also to cope with the stress of shows, it may well be too much.
Even the most easy going cats need to rest after a trip! It is not only a question of stress there is also the FATIGUE FACTOR. All these trips and shows are very demanding and after a long trip the cat will need rest, attention, good food and to feel home again. Provide to cats that are arriving in a new home several scratching possibilities. This will help the cat to feel home faster. (barrels, scratching posts, cat trees etc).
The first steps of Corona management start BEFORE the birth of the babies:
If we go to the very beginning, to the source of the matter regarding the FIP problem in most catteries, we need to go back to the arrival of each cat at the cattery and the management of studs and queens.
When a new cat arrives at the cattery most breeders isolate the cat for 7 to 10 days to prevent spreading infectious diseases (incubation time for most bacteria and viruses is from 5 to 7 days). Unfortunately, regarding Corona, this small period of isolation is NOT enough.
We assume every cat we buy is a Corona carrier unless buyer states otherwise and is able to show tests. If this happens, is is not necessarily a big advantage because in this case, you would have to isolate the cat anyway.
Cats that never had contact with Corona can be more exposed to FIP after contamination for the first time than one carrier that received anti bodies from a mother who was a carrier. So buying a cat that is Corona neg is not exactly a big advantage if you have Corona at your cattery.
If the cat was tested negative to Corona (keep in mind one negative test is not enough to be certain the cat isn’t a carrier, several tests should be made to confirm), in this case you would need to present this cat to a small group of carriers who do not shed. Do this gradually to make sure there is no big stress.
When a new cat arrives, you must make your regular tests according to your sanitary protocol and of course test also for Corona, Giardia and Tritrichomonas (these are intestinal parasites that can play a role in Corona management).
The Corona test must be one that indicates not only if the cat is “neg or pos” but also indicates the levels of Corona present and if the cat is shedding for example.
If the cat is shedding, which is very likely after a trip and house change, this cat should be isolated for at least 2 months and then tested again before being introduced to a stable group.
I know that not everyone can do this but it is how things should be done. If it is impossible for you to isolate a cat for this long, in this case you should separate your cats according to the results of Corona test: Shedding cats together and cats who are carrier but are not shedding together.
You will have in this case to see the priority according to age, temperament and test results of cats that are already present in the cattery to see what would be the best fit and if you will privilege test results matching (not shedders together) or going for best matches regarding temperament to avoid stress.
You could also make groups with an older cats that are not shedding because if they are re contaminated, they will manage to deal with the virus better than younger cats being re contaminated.
The maximum amount of cats allowed in a group for an optimal result should be three adult cats for a 20m2 room with possibility of distractions like daily visits to an outside enclosure or play room.
If you have important females that do not accept well other cats, make sure you have an exclusive room for that female or keep a daughter and neuter mother. Dominant cats can be a disruptive presence that will increase stress levels in the whole group.
If you have common play areas or common outside enclosures move each group with their own litter tray and clean the room deeply every week with hot high pressure steamer and adequate disinfectant. The good news is that Corona is not a very strong virus and most disinfectant products will eliminate the virus as well as high temperatures.
Common play areas and enclosures can be the source of different Corona strains being mixed and a cat who is only a carrier when contaminated with a slightly different Corona strain can become again a shedder. Therefore you should pay particular attention with the disinfection of common rooms and only allow small groups of cats that are not shedding Corona to use such rooms.
Corona virus strains
There are slightly different strains of the same virus and these strains combined could give origin to an enhanced version of the same virus that could have a greater ability to mutate
Basically Corona management starts with the well being of each individual at the cattery because the stress factor is a huge point regarding Corona. The more stress there is, the lesser chances the cat will manage to get rid of the virus or at least to stop shedding the virus constantly.
It becomes obvious that BEFORE buying Studs and Queens you have to evaluate your structure in order to determine the number of cats you can have comfortably without putting in danger each individual or kittens to come.
If you are a small cattery living in a normal size house:
You will need one room for a maternity.
One room where your stud can live comfortably separate from your queens. If possible a place where he cannot hear females calling. This will help to reduce stress for both, male and females (and for yourself).
For one house with two areas of at least 20 m2 each (living room and guest room for example) not counting the room for mum and babies and room for your stud. You can have 3 or 4 queens on the most. Anything beyond you would be putting in danger all the cats of the cattery.
So you must have at least 70 to 80m2 of space for their use if you don’t mind having them in your living room. Some of these rooms and space can be indeed a living room, dining room. Knowing that you WILL need a room for maternity and a room for your stud that SHOULD NOT BE a humid bathroom and be larger than 10m2 with heating.
So at least 100m2 for a family having 5 cats is necessary and anything smaller will represent taking high risks for adults and babies to come.
The ideal would be to make sure the parents are not shedding corona when the mating takes place: The male can be tested before the mating and the female 3 weeks after the birth.
Why? Because if the male is shedding there are more chances he will pass on his Corona to the female. Different cats can carry slightly different strains for the same virus that once combined can favour the ability of the virus to mutate. Particularly cats coming from different parts of the globe like a cat from Russia and one from the USA.
The test needs to be from a freshly collected sample (either taken from the cat or fresh stool) and it has to provide the quantity of Corona found in the sample in case of a positive test.
Some labs indicate if the cat is shedding and the amount found in faeces. A test that indicates only positive or negative is not enough in case of a positive result. It is necessary to know how much corona was found and if the cat is shedding or not.
This is because if the male is not shedding or if he is negative, he will not pass on Corona to the female and if she is positive, different strains of Corona will not be mixed.
Of course this is supposing male and female live apart. If male and female live together, the test should be made on mother only 3 weeks to checking if she is shedding corona in high quantities or not after birth
I never leave the female constantly with the male or only in rare cases because each cat is different and some are peculiar and need privacy. But in general male and female will mate at determined moments and not share litter tray or anything else apart from the necessary. Of course they have to stay together enough to ensure the success of the mating (one or two matings per session) but when they start getting tired or annoyed one with another, I separate and it is time to rest, eat, drink, use the litter and also evacuate the stress.
This does help to decreases stress and to avoid sharing litter and water bowl reducing Corona exchange.
The preparation of the mother.
You basically have to make sure the mother is in her best condition and prepare her with wet food, several meals a day as well as dry food, so she will gain weight before pregnancy. We are not talking about hugely fat mums but she will need the extra weight so she will not get weak before of the end of lactation period. Calcium and vitamin supplements can be a good idea but avoid calcium supplement the two last weeks of pregnancy.
Ideally babies and mum should be alone without other adult cats and the room should be prepared to receive them with deep full cleaning.
Make sure that the floor surface, the furniture, cat trees and toys are easy to be cleaned and disinfected.
Make sure the cleaning tools like brooms, cloths are not shared with other rooms. Each room should have their own cleaning material.
From the moment babies start walking and start eating solid food, they will need a litter and it will be the moment to build an enclosure inside the maternity room with a small litter for babies and make sure mum can jump and have access to a large clean litter that you will keep as clean as possible changing the sand every two/three days entirely. Same for babies, keep it clean and change daily for babies. One small litter tray each 2 kittens. For a litter of 6 babies, 3 or 4 small baby trays. If you have less space for trays, in this case clean, disinfect and change them every day. Choose a unscented litter.
The longest babies will be without any contact with mum’s litter tray, the best it will be for FIP management.
Some breeders separate mother and babies at 6 weeks. It is a choice but I am strongly against it unless you can reunite them for a few hours several times and at least once at night to allow feeding and mother’s education.
A lack of presence of the mother may lead to behaviour issues later in life.
Number of litters per female and frequency.
A female should have one litter every year or we can go by Fife rules and do 3 litters in the space of 2 years.
Keep in mind that close litters will have an impact on babie’s and mum’s health and a tired female is likely to produce weaker kittens.
Fife rules MUST be applied no matter the country, weather or any other factor:
Females should not breed before 10 months and should not have more than 3 litters in 24 months. Anything beyond could very well lead to weaker kittens. So try to respect one litter a year and the quality of milk and health for mother and babies will be an huge factor to contain and manage the FIP problem.
Cross contamination with other infectious diseases.
If you have a litter that the mother is shedding Corona and babies were also contaminated with Calici virus for example: Avoid in this case early neutering because this could be simply too much for the babies.
You can either sell them later when they will be a bit older by 5/6 months, you can sell them to people you trust at 3 months or yet sell them to people you trust without a pedigree. Make sure the buyer is a honest person and will not be tempted making a litter with the cat sold as pet.
Early neutering is important for the preservation of the breed but the health of the baby is way more important than anything else.
If you have a litter where kittens are in different stages of development and different sizes, this could be a sign that kittens have been struggling with high Corona peaks. The smallest kittens in this case should not be early neutered.
Avoid unnecessary vaccination.
I do not give FeLV vaccination to kittens any more. There are several reports that link FIP to FeLV vaccination.
I do not vaccinate pet babies for rabies and I have an interdiction of vaccination for Felv written on my sales contract before at least 1 year old if absolutely necessary.
At the end is also a question of common sense:
Choose well your matches
Avoid moving cats under 2 years old from home to home for stud service.
Avoid buying several cats at the same time, give a good space between cat’s purchases, concentrate in introducing the new member in the best way possible and in their adaptation BEFORE thinking of buying new cats.
Be realistic, do not buy more cats than you can cope with total comfort: Ordinary houses can accommodate one male and 2 or 3 females anything beyond this you will need a proper cattery structure with several rooms, like a maternity, isolation room, studs room, outside enclosures etc.
Isolate your cats properly for the longest periods possible if the cat is shedding until he/she becomes a non shedder.
Prepare your females and keep them healthy and happy.
Give the best nutrition you can provide. Dry food only is not good enough and right adequate food and nutrition is essential when it comes to a strong immune system.
Prepare your maternity room in order to prevent contact with mother’s tray as long as possible.
Observe your kittens, a litter that has significant difference in size may be a sign that certain kittens are affected by high levels of Corona.
Observe your kittens in order to decide which ones can be early neutered according to mum’s tests results, size and temperament of the kitten and avoid unnecessary vaccination.
Talk to your clients about prevention: Kittens should not travel more than 3/4 hours before the age of 2 years old. Work with your clients to optimize prevention.
Selling a cat abroad to another cattery:
First of all dialogue is necessary, ask how the cat will be kept to ensure the buyer is aware of all these previous points and ready to isolate the cat but providing contact and affection.
Make sure your are selling the best and strongest cat of the litter and if possible a cat that is not very shy and sensitive. You can request a blood panel and If the protein numbers are low it is an indicator for possible FIP. Above 0.8 FIP is excluded and under 0.4 FIP is likely. It is prudent to not let a kitten travel with a low A:G ratio.
Prepare your cat for trips carrying him/her about for short trips, meeting different people and prepare your cat with vitamin supplement and good wet nutrition.
Discuss FIP with buyer in order to establish in the contract what will be done in case FIP occurs.
Last but not least: The FIP problematic is complex and loosing a cat/kitten to FIP is devastating. That said, we need to act with common sense. Avoiding lines and cats and especially the ones that have been well tested and proven healthy regarding genetic diseases such as HCM can be just as bad. Please keep in mind that in 5 to 10 years all indicates that FIP will be a problem that stayed in the past while HCM will still be there. So focus in your sanitary measures but don’t start avoiding systematically healthy lines regarding hereditary diseases like HCM in the name of FIP. The only thing we actually know regarding Fip in Siberian lines is that NONE of them have been spared.
Here are some useful links that will help you to understand better Corona and FIP.
Here is a link with tested litter brands that are good to avoid re contamination since they were tested and they kill Corona released in excrements.
Dr Pendersen studies