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Feline distemper discovered at Washington County shelter

13 animals euthanized

July 23, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN -- The Humane Society of Washington County euthanized 11 kittens and two adult cats in recent days after they showed symptoms of a highly contagious, deadly gastrointestinal disease, organization spokeswoman Katherine Cooker said.

The shelter's other 110 cats have been quarantined, and the cat adoption area and housing units will be closed until it is deemed safe to reopen them, Cooker said.

The disease, known as panleukopenia or "feline distemper," was apparently brought into the shelter by a stray cat, she said.

"That means the disease is in the outside cat population," Humane Society of Washington County Executive Director Paul Miller said in a news release. "The public must be aware of the potential for their own cats to pick up the disease if they let their personal pets outside around other cats."

Although highly contagious between cats, the virus is not contagious to humans, Cooker said.

Cooker recommended local cat owners keep their cats indoors and ensure they are up-to-date on their immunizations. A feline distemper vaccine is commonly given to kittens in a series of shots beginning when they are 8 weeks old, and cats should be brought back in for a vaccine booster each year, a Park Circle Animal Hospital spokeswoman said.

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The disease is especially serious for very young and very old cats, Cooker said. Symptoms include weakness, lethargy, vomiting, dehydration and diarrhea, Cooker said. She recommended that cat owners who notice these symptoms contact their veterinarians immediately.

Panleukopenia is spread through direct contact with an infected cat's body secretions, such as urine, feces or vomit, or with items that can absorb the virus, such as clothing, shoes, bedding or grass, Cooker said. The virus can live in the environment for up to a year and does not respond to common disinfectants such as Lysol, Listerine or alcohol, she said. To destroy the virus, the infected area must be burned or disinfected with a dilute bleach solution of one part bleach to 32 parts water, she said.

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