After two confirmed cases of a rare, often fatal virus, the Athens-Clarke County Animal Shelter was forced to quarantine all feline residents and turn away any new shelter occupants for about two weeks.
In response to the outbreak, the shelter euthanized “between 25 and 30” cats, according to ACC Animal Control Supervisor Michelle Carrigg.
Cats were accepted again by the shelter on July 20, and feline residents are once again available for adoption.
The shelter, located at 125 Buddy Christian Way, was unable to take in cats in response to two confirmed cases of feline panleukopenia, according to an official statement made by the animal shelter on July 10.
The shelter is government-funded and works with the county’s Animal Control to provide numerous services, including enforcing Animal Control ordinances and facilitating the “reclaiming of lost and surrendered animals,” according to the shelter’s website.
According to the July 10 statement, “FP is a highly contagious virus among unvaccinated cats that is common in the wild and has a high mortality rate, especially among kittens.”
During the two-week quarantine, only shelter staff had access to the cat area of the shelter and the rooms underwent deep cleaning, Carrigg said.
The shelter has been under self-imposed quarantine as a precaution before, although Carrigg could not remember the virus that lead to the previous quarantine.
Carrigg confirmed on July 22 that after implementing the cat quarantine, there were only two cases of cats diagnosed with FP.
The first confirmed case of FP was found after Shelter Director of the Athens-Area Humane Society, Jed Kaylor, pulled a sick cat from the ACC shelter and took the cat to a vet following concerning symptoms.
“Her body temp was low, she hadn’t been eating and you could tell she had lost some weight,” Kaylor said.
After the cat experienced a brief recovery followed by more symptoms, a vet working with the Humane Society decided to test the cat for FP. The test came back positive. The Humane Society then relayed the information to ACC Animal Shelter.
Later that week, the ACC Animal Shelter diagnosed another cat and put in place the complete cat quarantine.
Treating the virus
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, FP “infects and kills cells that are rapidly growing and dividing, such as those in bone marrow, intestines and the developing fetus.”
“It’s really bad when it happens. Some shelters choose to euthanize all cats, whether infected or not, and do a deep cleaning afterwards,” said Laura Mosoriak, a veterinarian and feline expert at Kingstowne Cat Clinic in Alexandria, Virginia.
The virus can also be particularly dangerous in highly populated areas such as kennels, pet shops and animal shelters.
“A foster program definitely would have helped to get more of the animals out,” Kaylor said regarding the situation at the ACC Animal Shelter. “We would use foster homes or quarantine the room to monitor everybody in this situation.”
Brandy Burgess, director of Infection Control at the University of Georgia Veterinary Teaching Hospital, said it’s important to keep newly arrived animals at shelters separate from animals already there, in order to better monitor the disease and allow time for vaccinations.
“With shelters, you never know the prior vaccination history,” Burgess said.
Local organization Cat Zip Alliance is dedicated to managing and reducing the number of community cats on UGA’s campus. To do so, it applies trap, neuter and release methods through its Campus Cats program.
“It’s always a tragedy when animals are euthanized at the shelter, even more so because it’s 100 percent preventable if pet owners would simply spay or neuter their animals, and if everyone caring for community cats would take the next step to have them fixed and vaccinated,” Kelly Bettinger, founder of Cat Zip Alliance, said.