More than a dozen possible cases of feline panleukopenia, a highly contagious and potentially fatal viral disease, has cat owners upset over the death of their cats and led an animal shelter to quarantine dozens of cats and kittens.
Three Gans residents said they unknowingly took home cats and kittens infected with the disease from the shelter. They said some of those kittens have died and spread the disease to their cats, which also died.
Panleukopenia, also known as feline distemper, is caused by feline parvovirus and attacks body cells, making cats susceptible to bacterial infections and other complications. Infection occurs when cats come in contact with blood, urine, fecal material, nasal secretions or fleas from infected cats. Infected kittens younger than 16-weeks-old have a 25 percent survival rate, while older cats may show no symptoms and have a greater chance of survival with treatment. It is not transmittable to people.
Symptoms include appetite loss, lethargy, fever, vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration. Treatment is limited to supportive therapy to help the cat gain enough strength to combat the virus with its own immune system. No medications can kill the virus and strict isolation is essential, according to the AVMA. A veterinarian can try to combat dehydration, provide nutrients and prevent secondary infection with antibiotics. Chances for recovery improve if a cat survives 48 hours, according to the AVMA.
Marilyn Martin, who has lost 3 cats in the outbreak, said she noticed some cats that appeared to be sick at the Fayette Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals shelter in North Union Township on September 15 when she volunteered to help clean animal cages. Her sister, Carolyn Rocca, works at the shelter.
Marin said that two female cats and their 11 kittens were in one cage and looked like they needed fostering. Rocca brought them to Martin’s home, which is next door to hers. “A week later, one of my cats collapsed on the floor,” Martin said. She took her sick five-month-old cat to a veterinarian, who said the feline had some type of contagious viral infection.
Rocca said she brought home five kittens that appeared to have conjunctivitis in their eyes to help them recover. However, two of the kittens from the shelter and three of her cats died. She said she could have carried the disease home on her clothes after handling infected cats at the shelter. Her family has more than 20 of their own cats as well as numerous dogs.
Laura Walters said Rocca, her across-the-street neighbor, brought her a cat from the SPCA on September 13 and it started showing signs of sickness two days later. The cat was so ill that a veterinarian euthanized it on September 20. She said she has another kitten that was beginning to show signs of illness.
All three women said they want reimbursement from the SPCA for the hundreds of dollars in veterinary bills they incurred.
Dr. Stephanie Shepherd, a veterinarian at Cheat Lake Animal Hospital in West Virginia, where Martin, Rocca and Walters took cats, said the animals were very sick and Walters’ cat had to be euthanized. The cats had diarrhea and were emaciated from an apparent virus, but tests to identify the disease were not conducted.
Rocca said she took the five cats from the shelter to another veterinarian who said they had feline distemper. She said she then confronted SPCA officials.
The SPCA began quarantining cats and kittens that might have the disease on September 21.
Olinda Beatty, the recently retired shelter manager, said health problems in cats are common and feline panleukopenia surfaced last year. Once, all the cats in the shelter had to be euthanized because of a disease that spread through the facility, she said.
Beatty said people who adopt pets are told and receive written instructions to have the dogs or cats examined by a veterinarian within 48 hours. If the animal is sick, the adopter has the option of returning the sick pet and taking a different one or receiving a refund of the adoption fees, she said.
“We don’t knowingly adopt out sick cats,” Beatty said.
The shelter has been vaccinating cats since discovering the problem, even though the vaccine hastens the death of cats that are already infected. Kittens have to be six-weeks-old before they can be vaccinated.
Source: The Herald Standard