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Lowell kitten contracts highly contagious deadly virus

A cat awaits adoption at the Lowell Humane Society. Animal advocates and health officials say all pets should be fully vaccinated. SUN file photo /Ashley Green

LOWELL — A kitten recently tested positive for an infectious disease in the city, prompting officials to remind residents to get their cats vaccinated against the highly-contagious disease that can turn deadly.

Last week, a kitten in the Acre neighborhood tested positive for Feline Panleukopenia, a viral disease of cats spread through cat contact, contact with contaminated feces, urine, nasal secretions or through contact with an infected environment.

All cats, but especially young kittens, unvaccinated cats or cats with compromised immune systems are susceptible to this disease. Humans and other domestic animals cannot get infected by the feline disease.

“Prior to vaccinations being developed, it (this disease) killed off a large number of cats,” said veterinarian Carol Cookingham of Linwood Animal Hospital in Lowell. “Since then, it has been very well-controlled with vaccinations, so I encourage everybody to get their cats vaccinated and up to date.

“It is a disease I have not seen,” she added. “We don’t have a case of it in our records.”

Symptoms of the illness include loss of appetite, fever, lethargy, nasal discharge or diarrhea.

Cats lose their white blood cells when they contract the virus, which means the body will have a difficult time fighting off infections. The disease can be fatal if left untreated.

“It’s a highly contagious disease, and it only takes one cat to spread it to others,” said Rob Halpin, director of public relations at the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ Angell Animal Hospital.

If your cat is showing any signs of illness, police want you to consult your veterinarian immediately.

“The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources and Lowell Animal Control encourage all owners of cats in the area to contact their veterinarian to ensure their cat has received all recommended vaccinations and boosters,” reads a statement from Lowell police.

Cats are supposed to receive their vaccinations four to eight weeks after birth, according to Halpin.

Then, they’re supposed to receive vaccinations and boosters every month until they’re 16 weeks old, and then once a year after that.

“They’d be in no danger of contracting this disease if their owners follow this,” Halpin said.

“Every cat should be vaccinated,” he said repeatedly.

There are low-cost vaccination options at the MSPCA, Halpin added.

There was no immediate update available on the condition of the Lowell kitten that contracted the virus.

For more information on the disease, contact Lowell Police Animal Control at 978-674-4277.

Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter @rsobeyLSun.