CHARLOTTE, N.C. (LaVendrick Smith | The Charlotte Observer) - A contagious and sometimes fatal virus that infects cats has spread sporadically through North Carolina animal shelters this summer.
Feline panleukopenia, also known as feline distemper, causes diarrhea, vomiting, lethargy, and in some cases death, in cats.
"It's sort of like the flu in people," said Dr. Patricia Norris, director of the Animal Welfare Section at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. "Some years it's bad and, some years it's not so bad."
The disease prompted the Cabarrus County Animal Shelter to announce Wednesday that it wouldn't be accepting or adopting out cats through Friday, following an outbreak at the shelter. A representative from the shelter couldn't be reached for comment Friday.
In addition to Cabarrus County, feline distemper has affected shelters in Wake and Lincoln counties, among others, Norris said.
The state issued a statement in June that feline distemper had been appearing in more shelters than normal across the state this summer.
Norris said she isn't sure what has caused the virus to be more widespread recently, but complimented the response of local shelters in containing the virus.
"This is not a disease because a particular shelter is dirty or is not keeping up with its sanitation," Norris said. "This is a disease that is found out in the community cats."
The disease is more commonplace in shelters than in vets' offices, which rarely encounter the virus, she said. Shelters often deal with stray cats that haven't had vaccinations, as well as younger and more stressed cats that are more susceptible to the disease, she said.
The state doesn't have numbers on how many cats have been infected or died from feline distemper this summer, but Norris offered ways to help prevent the spread of the virus.
She urges pet owners to make sure their cats are up to date on vaccinations.