Cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) are a highly threatened species because of habitat loss, human conflict, and high prevalence of disease in captivity. An epidemic of feline infectious peritonitis and concern for spread of infectious disease resulted in decreased movement of cheetahs between U.S. zoological facilities for managed captive breeding. Identifying the true feline coronavirus (FCoV) infection status of cheetahs is challenging because of inconsistent correlation between seropositivity and fecal viral shedding. Because the pattern of fecal shedding of FCoV is unknown in cheetahs, this study aimed to assess the frequency of detectable fecal viral shedding in a 30-day period and to determine the most efficient fecal sampling strategy to identify cheetahs shedding FCoV. Fecal samples were collected from 16 cheetahs housed at seven zoological facilities for 30 to 46 consecutive days; the samples were evaluated for the presence of FCoV by reverse transcription-nested polymerase chain reaction (RT-nPCR). Forty-four percent (7/16) of cheetahs had detectable FCoV in feces, and the proportion of positive samples for individual animals ranged from 13 to 93%. Cheetahs shed virus persistently, intermittently, or rarely over 30–46 days. Fecal RT-nPCR results were used to calculate the probability of correctly identifying a cheetah known to shed virus given multiple hypothetical fecal collection schedules. The most efficient hypothetical fecal sample collection schedule was evaluation of five individual consecutive fecal samples, resulting in a 90% probability of identifying a known shedder. Demographic and management risk factors were not significantly associated (P ≤ 0.05) with fecal viral shedding. Because some cheetahs shed virus intermittently to rarely, fecal sampling schedules meant to identify all known shedders would be impractical with current tests and eradication of virus from the population unreasonable. Managing the captive population as endemically infected with FCoV may be a more feasible approach.
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