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Just a head's up article

post #1 of 3
Thread Starter 
On a disease that IS deadly to cats.

Distemper Disaster

February 12, 2002
Written by: Erin Harty, Staff Writer

The ordeal began innocuously enough—two recently adopted cats in separate homes that were vomiting and lethargic. But when the two veterinary clinics that saw the cats determined the cause of their illnesses, it suddenly became a much bigger problem.


To decontaminate the facility and prevent further infection, there was no choice but to "purge" the shelter—about 60 cats had to be euthanized.


The cats tested positive for feline panleukopenia, also known as feline distemper, on Jan. 15. Both were strays that had been given physical examinations and were apparently healthy when they were adopted from the Asheville Humane Society shelter in Asheville, N.C., on Jan. 14.

"Both [veterinary] clinics alerted us" about the diagnosis, said Bart Willis, the shelter’s veterinary technician. "Soon after that, unfortunately, cats under the age of six months started dying in their cages."

He soon discovered that the virus had infected all three of the shelter’s cat rooms, meaning that every cat at the facility had been exposed. To decontaminate the facility and prevent further infection, there was no choice but to "purge" the shelter—about 60 cats had to be euthanized.

Cat adoptions were temporarily halted while the facility was disinfected, top to bottom, three times, Mr. Willis said.

Feline distemper is a highly contagious and deadly viral disease that attacks a cat’s white blood cells. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, infected kittens less than 16 weeks of age may die at a rate of about 75 percent, and other cats at a rate of 50 percent. (The virus is not related to canine distemper, and dogs are not affected by it.)

According to the Cornell University Feline Health Center, panleukopenia used to be the most serious infectious disease of cats in this country, killing thousands of animals every year. But with the advent of highly effective vaccines that offer most cats complete protection, the disease has become uncommon.

But it still exists in the stray population, Mr. Willis noted—all seven cats that died of the disease at the shelter were strays.

For shelters, the challenge is to maximize the number of animals they can house—thereby minimizing the number euthanized—while safeguarding the health of all their charges. In the wake of the devastating outbreak, the Asheville shelter has revamped its way of handling animals.

Animals travel through the shelter via a one-way route and three separate rooms, Mr. Willis said—a receiving room, a stray room, and an adoption room. The shelter’s policy used to be to vaccinate cats once they were deemed adoptable and ready to be moved into the adoption room; now, all cats are vaccinated as soon as they enter the shelter.

Animals are now also quarantined for 10 days, Mr. Willis said. Then the entire group of animals is moved to the adoption area at once, and the holding area is thoroughly disinfected before the next group is admitted.

Right now, a bank of cages in the stray cat room is being used for quarantine, as well as some large carriers and cages in another area of the shelter, to keep stray and non-stray cats separate. While the quarantine period will remain a permanent policy, the shelter won’t be able to continue using separate quarantine areas, Mr. Willis said.

"We’re a little behind the times," he explained. The shelter is housed in a converted service garage that previously had been used for county vehicles. Ten thousand animals pass through the facility each year.

While shelter workers have been scrambling to deal with the animals affected by the outbreak, they’ve also had human issues to contend with.

The ordeal was extraordinarily difficult for the shelter’s staff, who had to euthanize dozens of the very animals they were trying to help. Grief counselors were called in to speak with staff members individually and in groups, Mr. Willis said. A stress management counselor also helped prepare the staff for the reactions from the public and how to deal with them, he added.

"Our staff handled themselves superbly," he said.

On the part of the public, there was an "initial panic," Mr. Willis said—the shelter received phone calls from pet owners who had adopted animals as long as two years ago, wondering if their pets were safe. There was also an outcry about the euthanization of so many seemingly healthy animals because people didn’t understand the potential risk to other cats, Mr. Willis said.

Local media helped support the shelter’s cause, using their stories about the outcry to emphasize the importance of pet vaccinations. The shelter also organized an emergency vaccination clinic with the help of a local rescue group—109 people brought their cats to receive vaccinations, according to the Asheville Citizen-Times.

The public reaction soon settled down, and Mr. Willis said there was a big turnout when the shelter reopened for adoptions.


Mr. Willis said there was a big turnout when the shelter reopened for adoptions.


Mr. Willis emphasized that all shelters are non-profits and monetary donations help fund vaccination programs like the one they’ve instituted.

All shelters operate under the threat of such outbreaks. On Jan. 25, a private veterinarian diagnosed a case of distemper in a cat recently adopted from a Gwinnett County, Ga., animal shelter. Shelter workers had to euthanize about a dozen cats, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. That shelter has nowhere to isolate potentially contagious animals, so any cats brought in without evidence of having had a distemper shot are automatically euthanized.

Vaccination for feline distemper is recommended for all cats, whether or not they’re allowed outside.

For more information:

Feline panleukopenia information from the AVMA and Cat Fanciers’ Association

Cornell Feline Health Center

Facts and Fallacies about Feline Vaccination
post #2 of 3
My cats get the FRVCP, Feluk, and Rabies of course. Does this protect against distemper? Is there a seperate vaccine I should be asking for?
post #3 of 3
The FVRCP stands for Feline viral rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus and panleukopenia. Panleukopenia is feline distemper. The only difference between the 3 way and 4 way is the addition of chlamydia. Which is one of the reasons it's so important for kittens to get thier boosters.
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