To examine the mode of natural transmission and persistence of feline coronavirus (FCoV), FCoV strains shed by domestic cats were investigated over periods of up to 7 years. An RT-PCR that amplified part of the 3′ end of the viral spike (S) gene was devised to distinguish FCoV types I and II. All but 1 of 28 strains of FCoV from 43 cats were type I. Nucleotide identities of the amplified 320 bp product from 49 type I FCoVs ranged from 79 to 100 %. The consensus partial S sequence of isolates recovered from persistently infected cats at time intervals spanning years was generally conserved. While most cats were infected with a single strain, a few may have been infected by more than one strain. Cats that were transiently infected and ceased shedding could be re-infected with either the same, or a different, strain. In most cases, whether a cat became persistently or transiently infected was independent of the virus strain. However, one strain was unusual in that it infected the majority of cats in the household simultaneously and was still being shed 18 months later. Factors that influence whether FCoV establishes lifelong infection in some cats and not others are determined mainly by the host response to infection.