Feline infectious peritonitis virus (FIPV) strains from six cats and three different geographic areas were compared genetically with feline enteric coronavirus (FECV) isolates obtained from cats inhabiting the same environments. Sequence comparisons were made from 1.2- to 8.9-kb segments on the 3' end of the genome. FECV/FIPV pairs from the same catteries or shelters were 97.3-99.5% related but were genetically distinct from FIPV and FECV strains obtained from cats living in geographically distinct environments. The high genetic similarity between FECVs and FIPVs from the same environment strongly suggested a common ancestry. Based on the presence of deletion mutations in the FIPVs and not in the FECVs, it was concluded that FIPVs evolved as mutants of FECVs. The mutations are deletions in the FIPVs and not insertions in the FECVs since similar sequences are present in other strains that have segregated earlier from a common ancestor. Therefore, the order of descent is form FECV to FIPV. Mutations unique to FIPVs were found in open reading frames (ORFs) 3c in 4 of 6 isolates and/or 7b in 3 of 6 isolates. When the study was extended to include 7 additional FIPV isolates, 11/13 of the FIPVs sequenced were found to have mutated 3c ORFs.