Volunteers caring for cats along the Tamsui Old Street in Tamsui District (淡水), New Taipei City (新北市) said they are trying to combat an outbreak of feline panleukopenia, more commonly known as feline distemper.
They say the first stray cat with the disease was found on July 7, with eight more victims discovered in the past 10 days.
About 50 cats are known to reside along a stretch of Tamsui Old Street between the Tamsui Police Precinct station to the Tamsui MRT, and local cat lovers have formed a group named “Cats in Tamsui” to look after them, even taking them to veterinarians for vaccinations and treatment.
A volunteer found a weak-looking cat lying on the street on July 7, with foam and snot across its face. A trip to the vet confirmed the cat had feline distemper.
Panleukopenia is primarily spread through contact with an infected animal’s bodily fluids, feces or other substances and objects. It can cause internal ulceration, bloody diarrhea, severe dehydration, malnutrition, anemia and often death.
Vet clinics in Tamsui have reported multiple cases of infections in the past 10 days, with eight cats dying and one requiring hospitalization, the animal care group said. Most of the cats that died were less than a year old, it said.
Wang Chung-hsien (王瓊賢), who manages the volunteers, said he has not seen anything like the severity of the infection in several decades, adding that rumors of a cat plague may have led people to abandon their sick or unwanted cats in Tamsui, adding to the problem.
He said an increase in the stray population could also have been caused by rumors that Tamsui was going to copy Houtong Village (猴硐) in New Taipei City’s Rueifang District (瑞芳) and create a “cat village.” Houtong’s Cat Village has been a tourist magnet since 2009.
Wang urged Tamsui residents and visitors to avoid picking up or petting stray cats, because while humans cannot catch feline distemper, they can help spread the disease if they come into contact with an infected cat and then touch other felines.
Meanwhile, Chang Li-chen (張麗珍), acting head of New Taipei City Government’s Agricultural Department, said the city government has no plans to create a “Cat Village” in Tamsui.
While volunteers are the prime source of care for wild felines in the area, the department has provided 30 doses of feline distemper vaccine to local vet clinics to help with the outbreak, Chang said.