50 cats dead after virus spreads through shelter

ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. (WAVY) – Veterinarians have a warning for pet owners about a deadly cat virus.  Already, it has claimed the lives of at least 50 cats at the SPCA of Northeastern North Carolina.

It started in early July when a kitten unexpectedly died.

“The kittens are just very fragile to begin with, health wise, so they’re just more susceptible to it,” said Ann Pitts, Executive Director of the SPCA Northeastern North Carolina.

An outbreak of panleukopenia tore through the SPCA over the last two months. It’s a virus, only in cats, that attacks the GI system.  Pitts said, “Immediately we started our quarantine and making sure all of our cleaning protocols are up to date.”

The SPCA vaccinates every animal that comes in, but in the case of the kittens who died, many were too small to get the vaccinations.

The Pasquotank Animal Hospital is one of the places that helped the SPCA diagnose and attempt to treat the virus.

Dr. Leigh Rigler says in her four years of working at the hospital, this summer is the first time she’s ever seen traces of the virus.  She said, “With kittens, normally you can’t even catch it, which is unfortunate.”

She says it’s especially easy for the virus to move through a shelter, because it’s spread through feces, urine, even water bowls – and normal cleaning agents won’t kill it.  “You don’t know when the disease started, who first brought it in and which cat has been exposed and which cat can transfer the disease to another cat,” Rigler explained.

Now, the SPCA says the virus is under control.  They just hope people will take this as a lesson and remember to vaccinate their pets.

“Our shelter is all about giving every animal a chance here. And so it just breaks our hearts to see these little kittens having to deal with something like this,” said Pitts.

Vets say if your cat is vaccinated, it should be immune to the virus.