A once-dormant killer cat virus has flared up again in Australia, hitting Sydney’s domestic cat population. To date, there have been more than 50 confirmed deaths. Here's everything you need to know about the disease - including the symptoms to look out for and the best ways to prevent infection.
If you're a cat owner, you've probably seen the news reports about a killer cat virus running rampant in NSW. But how serious is it? And what can you do to protect your feline friend? Here are the facts.
What is the killer cat virus called?
The disease causing headlines is a contagious virus known as feline panleukopenia or FPV. The disease virtually disappeared from Australia in the mid-1970s but has made a resurgence in Sydney's stray cat population.
What does the killer cat virus do?
FVP primarily attacks the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, causing internal ulceration. This can lead to total sloughing of the intestinal epithelium and death within 24 hours.
If left untreated, the mortality rate for FPV is estimated at 85 per cent in adult cats and nearly 100 per cent in kittens.
Can I get infected by my cat?
The disease is caused by small DNA viruses known as parvoviruses. There is no risk for humans.
How serious is the outbreak?
To date, the disease has surfaced in three animal shelters in Sydney's west. As mentioned, more than 50 cats have died from the virus so far, most of which were kittens.
Blacktown City Council is the latest to announce an outbreak. As a result, its Animal Holding Facility will not accept cats until the outbreak is under control. Adoptions and cat rescues have also been put on hold.
The current outbreak is considered dangerous because it occurs in the middle of summer, when there are larger numbers of kittens around. If cat vaccinations drop below 70 per cent of the total population, the risk of a disease epidemic is high.
How can I tell if my cat's infected?
Symptoms include fever, lethargy and loss of appetite, followed by vomiting and diarrhoea. In severe infections cats can die suddenly with no signs.
How can I prevent my cat from getting infected?
The most effective protection against the virus is to ensure your cat has been vaccinated. If possible, you should also keep your cat isolated from other cats; especially strays.
What should I do if my cat has FPV?
Above all, act fast! FPV requires quick, aggressive treatment or the cat is likely to die. If you're concerned that your cat might be infected with FPV, take it immediately a veterinary clinic and request that it be tested with an immunochromatographic kit.
Be prepared for a costly vet bill though: treatment may require antibiotics, myriad vitamin injections, an intravenous drip and even a whole blood transfusion. There's also a strong likelihood of additional treatments due to secondary infections.
Additional reporting by Chris Pash.