Pet cats at risk from deadly, highly contagious outbreak

Cat owners have been urged to ensure their pets are up to date with vaccinations and boosters.

Cat owners have been urged to ensure their pets are up to date with vaccinations and boosters. Photo: Getty

A highly contagious and potentially fatal cat virus has broken out in Victoria.

Multiple confirmed cases of Panleukopaenia Virus in the greater metropolitan area of Melbourne prompted the Australian Veterinary Association and RSPCA Victoria to sound the alarm on Sunday.

Cat and kitten owners are being urged to ensure their pets are up to date with vaccinations and boosters.

The virus causes a severe and often fatal gastroenteritis. Owners should look out for diarrhoea, lethargy, loss of appetite, fever, vomiting and dehydration.

Pnaleukopenia is spread through faeces, urine, saliva or the vomit of an infected cat.

It is not contagious to humans or other animals, but can be spread through cats on clothing or shoes.

In a statement on Sunday, AVA President Paula Parker said the virus was generally quite rare.

“Vaccination provides high immunity, which is why these recent confirmed cases of Panleukopenia are cause for concern – and action,” Dr Parker said.

It typically takes two days for an infected cat or kitten to become symptomatic, so the risk of transmission is extremely high.

“We suggest all cats be routinely vaccinated each year with the F3 vaccination. Vaccines prevent your cat from becoming ill and help to stop the spread of disease.”

RSPCA Victoria CEO Liz Walker said all cats available for adoption through its animal care centres were fully vaccinated. Kittens under the age of four months require a final vaccination booster around 16 weeks of age.

“All animals adopted through RSPCA Victoria have been health checked, vaccinated, desexed and microchipped,” Dr Walker said.

“Our concern is for the hundreds of stray kittens that are brought into our care each year. The majority of these kittens haven’t yet been vaccinated and may have been exposed to the Panleukopenia Virus among a colony of stray cats.

“We have strict quarantine and biosecurity measures in place so that any contagious illness that presents at our facilities can be contained.”

She said the best way to control the virus was to create a herd immunity through widespread vaccinations.

“That’s why we are reminding all cat and kitten owners to make annual vaccinations a routine part of their pet’s care.

“The importance of keeping your pet’s vaccinations up to date cannot be overstated.”

Anyone whose cat shows symptoms should contact their vet.

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