How do cats with Feline Panleukopenia get into cat rescue facilities?

Catawba animal shelter I believe
Catawba animal shelter I believe
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When a cat in a rescue center falls ill with feline panleukopenia it is a catastrophe for the other cats in the same facility because they might have come into contact with the cat who is very ill and because feline panleukopenia is highly contagious and often a fatal disease, veterinarians decide for the sake of safety to euthanise all the cats that may have come into contact with the sick cat.

This has happened in a shelter in Catawba, which I believe is in the state of North Carolina but somebody who knows better than me might wish to correct me.

Last weekend, shelter staff members found two cats at the county’s animal shelter who were dead in their cages. Tests concluded that the cats died of feline panleukopenia (feline distemper).

At that moment in time, and after, I suspect, a lot of thought and with a heavy heart, shelter staff decided to euthanize 87 cats who might have come into contact with either one of the two dead cats.

The shelter staff consulted with their veterinarian and weighed the potential for the virus to spread to other parts of the facility and into the community against the seriousness of extensive euthanasia, and decided to euthanize to minimize the risk of this nasty virus spreading.

This has happened before at another shelters and it will happen again but why should it happen? Does it have to happen?

I don’t think we can criticize the veterinarian and the shelter staff for making their decision but I believe that we can criticize somebody at the shelter facility for taking into the facility two cats who carried panleuk or perhaps they got the disease from cats inside the shelter? It doesn’t change things.

If the consequences of introducing a sick cat to a shelter are this catastrophic surely it makes sense to have a quarantine area where new intakes can be held pending with certainty that they do no carry serious diseases.

There have been other outbreaks and the same sort of mass euthanasia in response, in other North Carolina shelters.

The root purpose of cat shelters is to save lives through adopting cats out to new caretakers.

To euthanise 87 cats, many of whom were no doubt excellent pets and healthy, is a complete failure of management.

Perhaps I am oversimplifying things. Perhaps I missed something important. I am not an USA cat shelter expert. But when foster carers of several cats pull a new cat from a shelter they have to make sure, at the outset, that the cat is not carrying a nasty contagious disease because they risk the lives of all the cats in their care.

Also adopters from shelters have to be sure that the cat they adopt is healthy. There seems to have been an oversight in this county shelter. How commonplace is this sort of risk?

11 thoughts on “How do cats with Feline Panleukopenia get into cat rescue facilities?”

  1. A shelter is also not going to tell you when an outbreak is determined a day after you rescue. If a rescue pulls from multiple sources then the virus is inside that persons car and can remain there for a very long time. Shelters risk lives and they don’t care. They just want the cat out the door.

    • Susan, would you call for an improvement in the shelter system? Is it so hard to set up systems which prevent all contagious diseases entering a shelter?

      Perhaps they don’t want to avoid these risks. It is a good excuse to euthanize cats and get rid of them (I am being cynical in writing that) which eases the oversupply of cats problem.

      • Dee, the shelter here has one very small room for cats. It sometimes holds 50 at a time. Overflows are stuck in an alcove off a driveway. There is no isolation at intake. There is very little sanitation; new cats are regularly put into cages with other cats; litter boxes, food and water dishes are not disinfected. Cats almost always come out of the shelter with URIs or worse. Kittens frequently die. Some rescues will no longer pull from this shelter because of the cost of treating the cats. The cat room is between the row of dog kennels — dogs bark incessantly — and a driveway where new arrivals are delivered and where euthanasia is conducted. The doors to the cat room have to remain open because sewer fumes back up into that room making it uninhabitable. Last winter there was no heat in the cat room. Shelter management resents and resists criticism and change. The County, which manages the shelter, does not fund it sufficiently and the citizenry does not give a damn for the most part. And in this rural, farming- and hunting-culture, cats traditionally are viewed as vermin at worst and rodent control at best. So absolutely I call for improvement in the shelter system, at the same time as I call for boundless riches and restoration of my youth. Sigh.

  2. In the county kill shelters that I am familiar with no testing of any kind is performed on cats entering, remaining, or leaving the shelter.

    • As with parvo virus , in dogs, there is no reliable test unless they are shedding the virus. With Pan leuk , even in house tests are not 100% during the shedding. The most common in house test , is the use of a snap parvo test.
      Vaccination on intake , surrender by appointment , and QT areas would be the most effective ways of preventing this. As to mass killing, thereare alternatives. Adult cats are at minimal risk. Research , by Maddie’s fund , has shown even ONE vax offers protection.
      Killing apparently healthy cats and kittens is NOT going to solve the problem. Attention to cleaning protocols and QT will save lives. Too many shelters , and staff, have become accepting of killing more to save more. Doesn’t make much sense , to me.

      • Thanks Tami for you excellent info. Surely more needs to be done to avoid introducing such a dangerous virus into a facility with many cats as undermines the raison d’etre of the process of cat rescue.

    • Well, I find that shocking because it undermines the whole ethos and purpose of the cat rescue concept. It is a high risk game to not do tests and have quarantine. Perhaps there isn’t the money in the system to do it.

      The reason why checks aren’t made is because the cat is not valued enough. They probably think we are rescuing cats (so called) and you’ll take it as it comes (flaws and all) or leave it.


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