Everett Animal Shelter puts down 81 cats after aggressive virus strikes

EVERETT — It’s a decision nobody at the Everett Animal Shelter wanted to make.

On Monday, staff at the shelter realized they had a problem — a serious one.

A kitten was found dead with vomit in its cage, the second feline death in two days.

Tests showed feline panleukopenia in the kitten’s feces, a contagious, aggressive virus that can kill cats in a day.

After a consultation with the shelter’s veterinarian, staff decided they should put down the shelter’s cats and kittens — nearly all of them.

By Monday night, 81 were euthanized. Several held in other parts of the shelter were spared and are now in quarantine.

“It has been a very sad and gut-wrenching day,” said Shannon Delgado, the assistant director of the shelter.

Staff are calling 34 families that adopted cats or kittens since Sept. 19 — the day before the suspected carrier, a stray kitten, was brought into the shelter.

Those who have adopted cats since that date should either return the animals to the shelter for a refund or work with a private veterinarian to quarantine their animals.

The feline adoption center of the shelter is shut down until Thursday. Shelter staff are asking people who find strays or want to relinquish their own cats to try and hold off until then. If they can’t, the shelter can accept stray cats, which will be placed in an isolated area of the shelter.

On Tuesday, workers were in the process of disinfecting the shelter from front to back.

Feline panleukopenia is a highly infectious viral disease. It doesn’t affect dogs or people.

Signs include diarrhea, vomiting, lethargy, fever and sometimes death, according to the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program, a national leader of information for animal shelters.

Exposed cats must be strictly isolated for 14 days or euthanized to control the spread of the disease, according to Koret.

If a shelter chooses to quarantine animals, Koret’s experts recommend separation in an isolation ward, separated building or foster care. The isolation ward must be able to be thoroughly cleaned — no carpet, furniture, wood or grass, for instance.

The Everett Animal Shelter didn’t have the space or staff to handle that option, Delgado said.

The shelter does vaccinate cats and kittens for feline panleukopenia, but the vaccine doesn’t always prevent the virus. That’s why even vaccinated cats had to be put down, Everett spokeswoman Kate Reardon said.

“We had to take a look at our operation as a whole,” Delgado said. “We needed to eliminate this virus and we needed to get back to a healthy population quickly.”

Everett immediately contacted other groups that it works with so they could keep an eye on their cat populations, said Kay Joubert, a director for PAWS, an animal rescue group based in Lynnwood.

Joubert said this particular virus is a problem for all shelters at one time or another.

“Every agency is going to have to make the best call for the population they are managing,” she said.

Debra Smith: 425-339-3197, dsmith@heraldnet.com

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