Prevalence and implications of feline coronavirus infections of captive and free-ranging cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus)

J. L. Heeney, J. F. Evermann, A. J. McKeirnan, L. Marker-Kraus, M. E. Roelke, M. Bush, D. E. Wildt, D. G. Meltzer, L. Colly, J. Lukas, V. J. Manton, T. Caro, S. J. O'Brien

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


The extent and progression of exposure to feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) virus in the cheetah, Acinonyx jubatus, was monitored by a world-wide serological survey with indirect fluorescent antibody titers to coronavirus. The indirect fluorescent antibody assay was validated by Western blots, which showed that all indirect fluorescent antibody-positive cheetah sera detected both domestic cat and cheetah coronavirus structural proteins. There was a poor correlation between indirect fluorescent antibody results and the presence of coronaviruslike particles in cheetah feces, suggesting that electron microscopic detection of shed particles may not be an easily interpreted diagnostic parameter for FIP disease. Low, but verifiable (by Western blots [immunoblots]) antibody titers against coronavirus were detected in eight free-ranging cheetahs from east Africa as well as from captive cheetahs throughout the world. Of 20 North Amercian cheetah facilities screened, 9 had cheetahs with measurable antibodies to feline coronavirus. Five facilities showed patterns of an ongoing epizootic. Retrospective FIP virus titers of an FIP outbreak in a cheetah-breeding facility in Oregon were monitored over a 5-year period and are interpreted here in terms of clinical disease progression. During that outbreak the morbidity was over 90% and the mortality was 60%, far greater than any previously reported epizootic of FIP in any cat species. Age of infection was a significant risk factor in this epizootic, with infants (less than 3 months old) displaying significantly higher risk for mortality than subadults or adults. Based upon these observations, empirical generalizations are drawn which address epidemiologic concerns for cheetahs in the context of this lethal infectious agent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1964-1972
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1990
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology


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