Effect of cat litters on feline coronavirus infection of cell culture and cats

J Feline Med Surg. 2020 Apr;22(4):350-357. doi: 10.1177/1098612X19848167. Epub 2019 May 16.


Objectives: Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) is caused by infection with feline coronavirus (FCoV). FCoV is incredibly contagious and transmission is via the faecal-oral route. FCoV infection, and therefore FIP, is most common in breeder and rescue catteries, where many cats are kept indoors, using litter trays. Whether it is possible to break the cycle of FCoV infection and reinfection using cat litters has never been investigated. The aim of the study was to examine the effect of cat litters on FCoV infectivity and virus load in multi-cat households, and transmission frequency.

Methods: Fifteen cat litters were mixed and incubated with FCoV, centrifuged and the supernatants tested in vitro for the ability to prevent virus infection of cell culture. To test applicability of in vitro results to real life, virus load was measured in two households in a double crossover study of four Fuller's earth-based cat litters by testing rectal swabs using FCoV reverse transcriptase quantitative PCR.

Results: Four litters abrogated FCoV infection of cell culture, nine reduced it to a greater or lesser extent and two had no effect. One brand had different virus inhibitory properties depending on where it was manufactured. Fuller's earth-based litters performed best, presumably by adsorbing virus. In the field study, there appeared to be less virus shedding on one Fuller's earth-based cat litter.

Conclusions and relevance: The in vitro study successfully identified cat litters that inactivate FCoV; such litters exist so do not need to be developed. Fuller's earth-based litters best prevented infection of cell culture, but did not completely abrogate FCoV transmission in two multi-cat households. A dust-free clumping Fuller's earth litter appeared to fare best, but virus shedding also varied on the control litters, complicating interpretation. Sawdust-based cat litters are not useful in FCoV-endemic households because they track badly and have a poor effect on virus infection.

Keywords: Bentonite; Dr Elsey; FCoV infection; FIP; Feline coronavirus; Fuller’s earth; cat litter; feline infectious peritonitis; reducing virus load; virus inhibition.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cats
  • Coronavirus, Feline / isolation & purification*
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Feces / virology*
  • Feline Infectious Peritonitis / prevention & control*
  • Feline Infectious Peritonitis / virology*
  • Immunologic Tests
  • Virus Shedding