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Recently discovered cat virus traced to a litter of kittens found near Williams Lake

The BC SPCA was instrumental in the discovery of a new feline virus traced to a litter of kittens found near Williams Lake.

BC SPCA Senior Manager of Animal Health Emilia Gordon says the Vancouver shelter had a cluster of illnesses in cats.

“When we traced it, it was traced back to cats who had come to Vancouver through our transfer program through the Quesnel branch, when we looked at the specific cats, we found patient zero. patient zero, the first cats to become sick were these three cute long-haired, adorable kittens who were found as strays in a rural area near Williams Lake, that’s where the trail stopped. We didn’t have any further information after those three kittens could’ve gotten it, because they got sick right after they came in, so it seemed like they brought something into our system. As we worked through it we collected samples and it was similar to a stomach bug people would get, and it spread quite explosively in the sheltered population, we had over 70 cats that got sick. We tested them for common cat viruses, and all the tests were negative, so we knew early on we were dealing with something strange. We reached out to some university collaborators and experts, and we got on the path to collect samples and eventually contribute them to a university research program where they found this new feline fechavirus.” 

Gordon says the outbreak happened over two years ago, and there are currently no sick cats at the shelter.

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Gordon says the virus has also been discovered in cats in Italy and Hong Kong. She says it’s not an emerging new virus, and it’s more of an old virus that’s just becoming known. Gordon says the three kittens found near Williams Lake were just unlucky and came across a cat or cat poop and had been transmitted indirectly.

Gordon says there shouldn’t be a need for concern, most cases were very mild, and the cats were in the care of a veterinarian. Gordon recommends cat owners have a good relationship with a vet, and to consult the vet if there are any signs of illness. She also recommends taking off shoes if there’s an indoor cat, and washing hands to avoid bringing bugs into the home.

Gordon says the SPCA does not want to alarm cat owners, but they want people to know that it’s out there.

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