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Watuaga Humane Society Ceases Cat Intake Due to Feline Panleucopenia Outbreak; What Cat Owners Can Do

By Madison Fisler Lewis

Oct. 28, 2014. So far, an estimated 8-10 felines have died at the Watauga Humane Society due to feline panleucopenia. Due to the recent outbreak, the animal shelter will no longer be accepting cats from private persons or from animal control.

WATAUGA HUMANE 2“We are ceasing intakes for about two weeks,” said Laurie Vierheller, executive director of the Watauga Humane Society.

“That is because that is what our veterinarian is recommending as a quarantine period for the facility. We had some cats that were not exposed, so we were able to put them into some homes.”

Feline panleucopenia is related to the canine Parvo virus. The illness is highly contagious between unvaccinated felines and is transmitted through bodily fluids and wastes; the virus is not airborne. The illness only affects cats and ferrets and does not cause illness in dogs and humans. The most at risk groups are young, unvaccinated felines.

The outbreak’s first death occurred on Oct. 2.

“Our first death that we can identify happened on Oct. 2,” Vierheller said. “And we didn’t see much else until Oct. 16. That is when we started to have a series of deaths. Death is not unusual at an animal shelter, and there were so many things that it could have been. I wouldn’t say this illness is common in an animal shelter, but we are not the only shelter that has had it and we had it once before in our old building.”

Following veterinary advice, the shelter is quarantining felines and will no longer be accepting additional cats. There are many ways that this illness could have made its way into the shelter environment.

“There is no way to really tie down the cause,” Vierheller said. “We take in many strays every year. Each year we take in 2,023 animals, and about half come from animal control and a lot of those are strays and people bring strays to our door all the time. We don’t know where these strays have been or what they have been exposed to. That is the most likely cause – a stray animal.”

The disease is unique in that it does not present any up-front early symptoms to cause alarm. The disease has an incubation period of about 10 days between exposure and the onset of symptoms, according to petMD.

“With a resperatory illness at least, you start getting sneezes and coughs, but that is not the case with this illness,” Vierheller said. “This one doesn’t have a lot of warning up front, so it is not likely it would have been identified in an animal as it was coming in. It acts pretty quickly.”

Symptoms of the disease include the animal not eating or drinking, vomiting, frothing at the mouth, and eventually neurological symptoms including muscle weakness and head bobbing.

The Watauga Humane Society has contacted those who have adopted animals from the shelter during the time period that the illness may have been present. To help educate adopters and the public about the disease, the shelter will host a question and answer session with the sheter veterinarian Dr. Greg Lowe on Wednesday, Oct. 29, from 1-2 p.m. and 5-6 p.m. at the shelter.

“What we are telling adopters is to keep an eye on their pets,” Veirheller said. “If they see symptoms, they need to take their animal to the vet and get them checked out.”

The shelter includes the vaccine against feline panleucopenia with its vaccinations for every animal that comes into the shelter. Unfortunately, much like flu shots in humans, there is a period of inactivity between the time of vaccination and when the vaccination takes effect in which the feline could get sick from exposure to the disease.

“We vaccinate all of our cats and if the animal continued its vaccinations after it was adopted, it is most likely not going to come down with the illness,” Veirheller said. “Because it is not 100 percent effective and because there is a lag time before the vaccine becomes effective, there is still a chance, so we encourage people to keep an eye on their cats and get them to the vet if they start to display symptoms.”

The cleanup process at the shelter will take a few weeks, after which the shelter will be open once again to felines.

“My understanding is that the only way to kill this particular disease is bleach or fire,” Vierheller said. “Basically, that is the only way to get rid of it, so we will be doing a very thorough bleaching.”

If your feline starts to show any of the symptoms mentioned in this article, contact your veterinarian immediately. For more information regarding the cease in feline intake at the shelter or other questions about the Watauga Humane Society, click here.