Sandy City Animal Services euthanizes cats after deadly viral outbreak

A feline virus that spread throughout Sandy City Animal Services last week killed one cat and required the shelter to euthanize eight others.

Ian Williams, director of Sandy Animal Services, said the shelter learned about the feline panleukopenia outbreak last week from a resident who recently adopted a cat. The cat had become sick and was diagnosed with the disease by a vet. It had appeared healthy when it was adopted.

“That’s part of the problem with this particular virus. It’s hard to detect until you become symptomatic,” Williams said. They can tell you you can test for this one day and have a negative result and then 24 hours later you can test and have a positive result.”

By May 18, “we had animals that were demonstrably sick and were literally dying in the kennel,” Williams said.

The shelter quickly isolated the exposed animals and decontaminated the rest of the cages. It required using medical-grade cleaning agents, because the disease is difficult to destroy and is resistant to many disinfectants.

Feline panleukopenia is a highly contagious viral disease caused by the feline parvovirus. It kills cells that are rapidly growing and dividing, such as those in the bone marrow and intestines. A vaccine exists, but the virus is difficult to treat once a cat is infected. Treatment can take weeks and the cat is infectious the entire time, potentially spreading the disease to others.

Williams said the shelter euthanized the cats not only to end their suffering but to also prevent the deadly disease from spreading into the community.

“We have to be conscientious of the diseases and the outbreaks that take place within the communities that we serve,” Williams said. “We have to make that difficult choice that’s in the best interest of this animal, to do the humane thing and/or to protect the welfare of the herd or our community and public health.

Deann Shepherd, communications director for the Humane Society of Utah, said the agency supported the animal services’ decision to euthanize the sick cats.

“Sending cats out into the community that were infected with this virus could increase the spread of the disease,” Shepherd said in a prepared statement. “We believe that the herd health of cats in our community was a factor that was considered by Sandy City Animal Services during their difficult decision.”

She defended the shelter from public criticism, saying animal shelters are often underfunded and criticizing is not the solution for improving services.

“Animal shelters and rescue groups must support and work together in the best interest of the animals in our community,” Shepherd said. “Attacking a shelter’s reputation causes more harm than good, and as a community, we should extend support to the shelters that need it.”

Sandy City Animal Services is a no-kill shelter, meaning it adopts out more than 90% of the animals it takes in. The dog adoption rate is near 97% and the cat rate is 93%. Because it is a municipal shelter, the agency had to continue to take in stray animals during the outbreak. Those animals were kept away from the contaminated area and are available for adoption, Williams said.