It's been several weeks since the spread of a virus among cats at the Humane Society of Indianapolis resulted in a quarantine at the shelter and the euthanization of more than 60 cats.

Just prior to the Thanksgiving holiday, staff at HSI discovered the presence of a virulent systemic feline calicivirus (VS-FCV). While the virus does not affect humans or dogs, it spreads quickly among cats, often with devastating results.

"It's similar to H1N1 for cats," explained Christine Jeschke, Director of Shelter Operations. "We vaccinate all the cats at the shelter for the regular form of this virus, but this is a mutant, more severe, version of that virus that spreads quickly."

With nearly 200 cats in its care when the virus was discovered, HSI moved as quickly as possible to isolate the infected animals from the general population.

More than 60 cats that were found to have the most severe symptoms of the virus were euthanized, while the remainder were isolated and quarantined immediately.

According to HSI, staff took immediate action upon discovering VS-FCV, which rapidly mutated and affected the majority of the shelter's cats. Those who were euthanized suffered severe, rapidly formed symptoms such as oral ulcers, swollen limbs, crusting of the face, hair loss, and temperatures of up to 106 degrees, and some were nearing stages of pneumonia and not eating.

Of the 115 cats not euthanized, less than ten have succumbed to the virus and died. More than 100 cats still remain at the shelter, in quarantine, and are continuing to show signs of improvement, according to Tristan Schmid, Director of HSI Communications.

"We're trying to save as many as we can," said Jescke. "It's so hard to lose any of these animals, but our focus is on the number we can save."

"Our veterinary staff has discussed the situation at length with vets at both Purdue's School of Veterinary Medicine and the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in order to follow best lifesaving protocols," said Jeschke. "They confirmed that we are following recommended vaccine and disinfecting protocols, and this outbreak was not the result of anything we did or did not do."

The cat quarantine will continue until after the first of the year for the majority of felines at HSI (though there are several cats that were not exposed to the virus whose shorter, two-week, quarantine ends next week). During the quarantine, HSI will not be accepting stray or surrendered cats, as all available resources are being devoted to saving the lives of the cats in quarantine.

It is important to note that the virus did not affect dogs and the adoption of dogs continues as normal at HSI. The shelter continues its regular operations for dogs including adoption services, the pet park, pet retail store, and dog training classes.

HSI's few available cats can be viewed at indyhumane.org. The shelter also encourages people to consider its animal-welfare partners Southside Animal Shelter, ARPO, Cats Haven, and Indianapolis Animal Care and Control if interested in adopting a cat.

If you'd like to help HSI save its 100+ remaining cats and make them comfortable during the quarantine period, please donate paper towels, bleach, bleach disinfecting wipes, disposable latex gloves, disposable restaurant style gloves (thin clear plastic), disposable shoe covers, medical scrubs, old bath towels and sheets, canned cat food, litter, cat scratchers, and cat toys to the shelter, located at 7929 Michigan Rd.

For more on VS-FCV: http://www.sheltermedicine.com/portal/is_vsfcv.shtml

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