Can We Eradicate Australia’s Deadly ‘Cat Plague’?

After a 40-year absence, the so-called “cat plague” is back in Australia, worrying cat owners and animal health experts alike.

The RSPCA and the Victorian branch of the Australian Veterinary Association issued a joint statement last week, reading in part:

The Victorian Division of the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) and RSPCA Victoria are calling on all cat owners to ensure their pets are receiving all necessary vaccinations, including booster vaccinations for kittens.   

The warning comes amid multiple confirmed cases of the Panleukopenia Virus in stray kittens from the greater metropolitan area of Melbourne.

Feline panleukopenia is highly contagious and difficult to control. The faeces, urine, saliva or vomit of an infected cat – along with contaminated surfaces – are all sources of transmission. The virus causes a severe and often fatal gastroenteritis.  The virus is not contagious to humans or any other animals, however, it can be spread to other cats through the clothing and shoes of handlers or owners of infected animals..

Australia officially wiped out the virus among the domestic cat population after outbreaks in the 60s and 70s, but, as with many viruses, these efforts failed to completely eradicate it.

The virus has continued to live on in the wider environment, possibly killing feral cats and infecting the sizable unowned cat population. The “cat plague” had generally failed to impact domestic cats, due to herd immunity from regular vaccination.

But now, the virus has returned – and this outbreak is serious.

What is the cat plague?

Known as feline parvovirus, panleukopenia or feline distemper, the virus is a highly infectious pathogen that has the potential to be fatal.

The virus targets blood cells of the intestinal tract, but it can also attack bone marrow and, under certain circumstances, stem cells. This tissue erosion can result in chronic vomiting, diarrhea, fever, anemia, weight loss and, in some cases, death. Because the virus also targets bone marrow, it impacts a cat’s white blood cells. This in turn means that an infected cat will struggle to fight secondary infections from bacteria or other viruses.

The virus can impact cats of all ages, but it’s particularly dangerous for kittens between the ages of two and six months, as well as pregnant cats and any cats with damaged or compromised immune systems.

Due to the severe nature of this virus, a suffering cat should be hospitalized and given intravenous fluids, as well as a range of treatments to stop vomiting and manage pain. Antibiotics may be required to fight off any secondary bacterial infections. Sometimes, blood or plasma transfusions and nutritional support via feeding tubes may be necessary.

Unfortunately, because of the intensive nature of treatment, pet owners may not be able to afford to pay out-of-pocket. As a result, they may have to make the heartbreaking decision of whether to go into debt or to euthanize their beloved pet. And, sadly, even with this intensive range of treatments, parvovirus can still be fatal.

How do we prevent the spread of feline parvovirus?

While it’s possible to use quarantine measures to prevent known infections from spreading, these kinds of interventions only have a limited impact. And that’s because parvovirus takes about two or three days to show symptoms. What’s more, the virus is very hardy and can remain in the environment for a long time. Additionally, while humans can’t contract the virus, they can transmit it if, for example, they have infected cat saliva on their clothes or hands.

A combination of factors is likely responsible for this new outbreak. The Guardian reports that efforts to rehome wild cats may have played a part in introducing multiple transmission routes to the domestic cat population.

Regardless of the exact causes, however, vaccinations remain a key management strategy. Veterinarians are encouraging all Australian cat owners to ensure their pets are vaccinated and to be vigilant for symptoms of the disease.

Photo Credit: Erica Leong/Unsplash

69 comments

Marie W
Marie W3 months ago

Thank you for posting

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Barbara M
Past Member 9 months ago

Thank you

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Sandra V
Sandra V9 months ago

Yo hace un mes acogi un gatito de 3 meses y gracias a que estaba en cama las 24h pude darme cuenta el primer dia de los síntomas e ingresarlo! Los veterinarios se asombraron de como pude darme cuenta en el primer dia de síntomas de la Panleucopenia : dejo de jugar a todas horas , comer, casi no bebía, tosio. estaba apático y al cabo del dia de hacer unas cacas normales hacer casi diarrea y el primer vomito amarillo y bajo su temperatura!! Aun así le tuvieron 5 días ingresado con transfusiones de sangre y plasma, el tercer dia empeoro, pero con todo el tratamiento intensivo, el haberlo detectado el primer dia y ser todo un luchador le dieron el alta el sexto dia !! Yo con una gran alegría de haberle salvado y conseguido una casa de adopción maravillosa, pero con un terror los 15 dias proximos por mis otros 5 felinos, limpieza a fondo y tirar muchas cosas y una factura de veterinario de 1.210€ Una terrible leccion de que apesar de querer salvar a cualquier animal no debemos de descuidar a los que tenemos ya en casa y tenerlos a todos al dia de vacunas, o peque de dejadez con 2 y os aseguro que nunca mas me va a ocurrir!! Merlin esta hecho todo un bellezon blanco y feliz con sus nuevos papas! Vacunar siempre por favor!!Ah yo vivo Valencia, España asi que cuidado con este maldito virus silencioso y mortífero y a los

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Clare O
Clare O'Beara9 months ago

Do they trap, neuter and release?

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Clare O
Clare O'Beara9 months ago

rehoming feral cats must be done with a course of wormings and vaccinations

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Clare O
Clare O'Beara9 months ago

th

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Clare O
Clare O'Beara9 months ago

poor cats

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Chrissie R
Chrissie R9 months ago

Did you know that YOU can bring viruses indoors on your shoes and clothing?

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Veronica D
Veronica Danie9 months ago

Thank you so very much.

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Veronica D
Veronica Danie9 months ago

Thank you so very much.

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