Multiple major pounds and shelters in Sydney are closed due to an outbreak of an often fatal cat disease, panleukopenia.
Affected cats have mostly been kittens that had not yet been vaccinated - or were not fully vaccinated - making this current outbreak particularly brutal as it has occurred in the middle of kitten season. The outbreak has resulted in the deaths of at least 50 cats.
Feline panleukopenia virus (also known as “cat parvo” or “cat distemper”) is a severe and frequently fatal cause of gastroenteritis. The virus also causes the white blood cell count to fall which makes the cat susceptible to other infections.
The virus is extremely contagious, however vaccination against this virus is also highly effective. The routine pet-owner vaccination is an F4 vaccine which includes protection against cat parvo. Which is why the vaccinations amongst pet owners had been so successful, practically eliminating the disease for 40 years.
But how does a once "vanquished" disease, almost eradicated by vaccinations, make an appearance and then spread so rapidly?
According to scientists, the problems have started in our pounds.
Three previous outbreaks in Victoria caused the death of more than 200 cats.
(The virus) was responsible for a Melbourne outbreak in 2013, affecting around 60 cats. A second Melbourne outbreak, involving 60-70 cats, occurred in February this year with a third outbreak hitting cats in Mildura, Victoria, in April this year (2015).
“In all outbreaks affected cats were mostly kittens from shelters with no history of feline panleukopenia (FPV) vaccination,” Sydney University investigator Vanessa Barrs said
The Veterinarian Magazine August 2015
In the Mildura outbreak, most affected kittens were in the six to 14 week age bracket, although a one-year-old cat developed clinical signs. In the 2015 Melbourne outbreak some older kittens (five to six months) and adult cats with lapsed vaccines were affected.
From there, researchers are indicating the disease has made its way to Sydney. Like the Melbourne outbreaks disease occurred in unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated cats, mostly in kittens.
Sequencing of isolates at Professor Vanessa Barrs’ laboratory at the University of Sydney has confirmed that disease was caused by a strain of feline panleukopenia virus (FPV) almost identical to that detected in an FPV outbreak in shelter-housed cats in Mildura and Melbourne in 2015.
Australian Veterinary Association
Closed pounds in NSW currently battling the disease include Blacktown Council Animal Shelter, RSPCA NSW Yagoona, RSPCA NSW Gunnedah and the Animal Welfare League facility at Kemps Creek.
Liverpool Council Animal Shelter does not have the virus, but has closed its doors as precaution.
“The current outbreak seems to be caused by a lack of mass vaccination, especially in shelter-housed cats,” Professor Barrs said.
“The disease had previously re-emerged in Melbourne cat shelters a few years ago but despite warnings, cats have not been vaccinated in many shelters because their risk of disease was perceived to be lower than in dogs, when in reality the risk to cats is high.
“When less than 70 per cent of the (pound) population is vaccinated, there is a perfect storm for the emergence of a disease epidemic. The current outbreak is a timely reminder that maintaining immunity in populations of animals where effective vaccines are available is essential”.
The University of Sydney
This pound-spread disease outbreak mirrors the experience of Rockhampton in Qld, where the pound was determined by local veterinarians to be the source of a community-wide dog parvo epidemic.
Supporters of trap and remove programs often cite health concerns as a reason to get cats "off the streets". But nowhere makes cats more unhealthy - kills more animals - than high-volume pounds.
Capture, torture, make ill, kill. Repeat thousands of times each year.
For all our pets' sake, we must demand our pounds are a safe place for pets.