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Dr. Taus
Dr. Taus, Veterinarian
Category: Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 505
Experience:  Veterinarian with experience in equine and small animal medicine.
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We are a private cat rescue group that lost Mama and her 5

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We are a private cat rescue group that lost Mama and her 5 nearly weened kittens this week. We were treating for upper respiratory issues and first Mama was found nearly dead one morning. We rushed her to our vet and she was treated for coxcideosis and possible round worm impaction. She was dead the next morning. The kittens died during the next 3 days. We had much testing done and The Doc thought Distemper was the reason.
O.K. now what? We vaccinated our sanctuary population. We thoroughly cleaned everything-dishes, laundry, floors cages etc.
Are the feral cats outside at risk? How about my personal cats that live upstairs from the sanctuary. How about the employees cats that they return to every night.
We have cats that need homes. When can I start adopting? I need real answers not answers based on paranoia which is what I am getting now. JuJu
I'm so sorry to hear about the loss of these cats! Feline distemper (panleukopenia) is highly contagious, but it has a short incubation period (the period after exposure and before animals get sick). Presuming that this is the culprit, as your vet believes, I think I can help you make some decisions.

Cats that are exposed to feline distemper and are going to get sick generally do so within 2-7 days. To be safe, wait at least a week from the last day the cats were in the same room or handled by the same people with the cat and kittens that died before adopting them. After about a week, you can be confident that they aren't going to get sick. Kittens from 3-5 months old are the most susceptible, as they are losing the antibodies they received from their mothers and may not have fully responded to vaccines yet. Vaccinated, adult cats rarely become ill.

It's great that everything has been thoroughly cleaned. A 10% bleach solution will kill the virus in the environment.

Unfortunately, the virus survives pretty well in the environment. It's a tough critter. If you are handling cats that are sick (who should be isolated), you should wear gloves and change clothes afterward before handling healthy cats. Once you've shown that the sanctuary cats aren't getting sick, there's no more risk of transmitting the virus to your own cats or the workers' cats. I would advise that you change clothes and wash your hands before handling your own cats for at least a week following any signs of illness in the sanctuary cats.

If you do have more sick cats, and if they recover (85% do not, and aggressive treatment is needed for any chance), be advised that a cat that has had distemper can shed the virus in stool for up to 6 weeks and should be kept isolated from other cats during that time.

If it is possible to trap and vaccinate the feral cats, I would recommend doing that. If they are not in direct contact with the sick cats or the wastes those cats have touched (discarded litter, blankets, etc), they are not at risk unless they contract it from other feral cats out in the world.

I hope this is helpful. If so, please rate me positively, and don't hesitate to let me know how I can help further.
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Customer: replied 4 years ago.

Thank You so much. So Where did this disease originate? Mama and kittens had been with us a month. We have never experienced this in 5 years of rescue.


Generally, they have to have contact with cats (or the areas that cats have been) that have the virus. That being said, if a cat came into your sanctuary who had been ill and recovered, they can shed the virus for 6 weeks following recovery. My best guess would be that a cat came in that had been mildly ill (perhaps had been vaccinated in the past but was no longer fully protected) and wasn't showing signs by the time you received it.

Customer: replied 4 years ago.

Another kitten succumbed last night. I guess We can do nothing more but wait?


Thank You,


I'm so sorry to hear that.

At this point, I would expect susceptible cats who were exposed to the first cat and her litter to become ill. Aggressive, hospitalized treatment with IV fluids, antibiotics, antivirals, etc is possible, but rarely successful, especially with highly pathogenic strains that cause cats to suddenly die before showing many symptoms.

I'd encourage you to really concentrate on biosecurity-- keep the staff interacting with sick or exposed cats to a minimum, and don't let any new cats have contact with exposed cats or items they have used. Bleach everything.

Again, I'm so sorry to hear that the first cat wasn't an isolated case and this may be more of an outbreak scenario. Many animal shelters, when faced with a similar situation, will totally depopulate and start from scratch, but I applaud your efforts to control this illness without unneccessarily euthanizing cats.
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