Panleukopenia outbreak in our house. What now?
June 3, 2014 7:18 AM   Subscribe

My fiancé and I foster homeless kittens and cats in our house as volunteers for a local cat shelter. Panleukopenia just hit us hard, killing all of our fosters, making us really depressed, and now we don't know what to do. Any advice?

Hi all-

Any other foster-ers out there? We got hit hard, feel terribly guilty, and so so sad. Last week we had 5 babies and a momma die, yesterday, now that we know what it is, our two other foster babies (living in a different room) tested positive and are fighting it in the shelter. My fingers are crossed for those two - we caught it really early and they were pretty fat.

We bleached the crap out of our house. Doorknobs, anything we probably touched, floors, bedsheets, toilets, windows, walls, and whatever else we could think of. We're going to do it again in a month. Our three pet cats were vaccinated beforehand and should be okay.

We're afraid to even go to the shelter to say hi. We're also afraid they hate us for not being sanitary enough. In all honesty, we had no idea this was a possibility, and that we had to use bleach instead of hand sanitizer, if we wanted to prevent something like this.

I just wanted to see if anyone has either been through something like this or knew of resources on the web. I've found plenty of info on the disease, but no advice on what to do or how to feel better after is kills all your babies.

Thanks so much
posted by ashtabula to opelika to Pets & Animals (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm so sorry, that sounds heartbreaking. Itty Bitty Kitty Committee lost a kitten to this about a year ago. A summary post is here. They just fostered their first kittens since then.

I think it's natural to feel guilty, but this is a really serious disease that's hard to kill. I don't think you have anything to feel guilty about.
posted by Mavri at 7:29 AM on June 3, 2014 [7 favorites]

We're afraid to even go to the shelter to say hi. We're also afraid they hate us for not being sanitary enough. In all honesty, we had no idea this was a possibility, and that we had to use bleach instead of hand sanitizer, if we wanted to prevent something like this.

I also immediately thought of IBKC when I saw your post. If it could happen to the IBKC family, it could happen to you. It's just a thing that sometimes happens.

I'm sure you know that you won't be able to foster for a while.

Mourn your loss. Enjoy your three cats. Call the shelter and ask them if you can come in to volunteer, if you want. They don't hate you.

This is a thing that happens. Hopefully, with time, you'll be able to let go of the guilt. Please do talk to the shelter people about it -- they might also be able to put you in touch with other foster families this has happened to.
posted by anastasiav at 7:41 AM on June 3, 2014

I am just here to offer support. I'm so sorry you went through this. It is wonderful that you are a foster family, and that you are willing to take these heartbreaking risks so that many other future sweet kitties will live and find loving homes. Best of luck. Does the shelter offer any suggestions as to cleaning? It sounds like you're doing the best you can with the bleach. I can't believe they blame you in any way--in fact, I think they should provide information about prevention and risks of infections to all future fosters. I did see more information on cleaning at the bottom of this site.
posted by bluespark25 at 7:45 AM on June 3, 2014

I am very sorry to hear about your tragic experience with the kittens. You need to give yourself a break on this though. I'm a cat lover who has had many cats (and a doctor, so I'm pretty familiar with sanitation stuff), I've never heard of this disease, and I clean a bathtub with bleach maybe once a year. I'm pretty sure most other folks are not bleaching the hell out of everything in their houses on a regular basis. Bleach is pretty harsh stuff, it is not the default cleanser for many if not most people. I use vinegar or plain soap and water mostly. I don't see how the shelter can be mad at you for not doing something they didn't ask you to do. If they feel this is something important for foster parents to know about (it sounds like it is!), they ought to provide information on it in their orientation packet/session/whatever for foster parents. Maybe to try to do something constructive with your sadness, you could offer to make up a little fact sheet on it for other foster parents that the shelter could use?
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:48 AM on June 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

That's so sad, I'm sorry. I've fostered kittens before and never heard of this before...I really don't think you should feel guilty. If one of the kitties had the virus, how would you have known?
posted by three_red_balloons at 8:02 AM on June 3, 2014

I also thought of IBKC, who just went through it.

I went through a death of a foster kitten, and though I don't want to talk about it here (though it was only one of 5 kittens, and therefore probably not panleukopenia), I'm happy to talk in mefimail or email. The shelter was totally kind and understanding about it -- they aren't going to be blaming you for anything.
posted by jeather at 8:04 AM on June 3, 2014

I'm so sorry. My first (and only) foster experience to date was also a heartbreaker, losing 4 kittens of a litter of 7. The first two were almost understandable (the mother was undernourished when we got her, and 7 is a huge litter) and they didn't even make it a week, but losing the 3rd and 4th at 6 weeks to calicivirus nearly broke my heart. I was running a kitten cam at the time, and one actually passed on camera... the amount of guilt I felt, and still feel, is actually surprising me, given how emotional i'm getting just typing this up. The community of cat people were absolutely amazing though.. I'm still facebook friends with several, and overall I'm glad I did take in the foster litter and and helped as best I could.

I haven't fostered since then, primarily since 2 of the 3 the remaining kittens, plus mommy cat, became my "foster failures" and hence mine their forever home, and I just haven't had the space. I want to eventually foster again, but it's already been 5 years and only now am I beginning to think i'm ready, both in a space sense and emotionally.

As well as IBKC, I am also a fan of Covered In Cat Hair, and Robin there has also had her share of heartbreak with foster kittens (and cats). It just happens, and it sucks.

So I guess my point, in all of this rambling, is that you're not alone, there are people out there who understand the guilt and heartbreak and don't place blame, and I'd recommend reaching out. Also in the end what counts is that no matter how short the lives of the kittens were, they were in a loving, safe, caring home during their time, which is infinitely better than the alternative of being on the street or in a cage.
posted by cgg at 8:06 AM on June 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

So sorry! May you and all the cats find peace soon, wherever they are.

Honestly, I am shocked that people here say they never heard of FPV. It is a standard vaccination for a reason!

Since the virus is shed with urine and feces I recommend disinfecting kitty bedding, litter boxes, water/food bowls and also the bottoms of your shoes so you don't spread the virus any further. This is really important, because the virus can survive for many month, sometimes for a year. Protect the cats of your neighbors, coworkers, friends and others by disinfecting your shoes.

A year from now you'll be able to foster kitties again. In the meantime enjoy your three cats and know that you did everything right by getting them vaccinated!
posted by travelwithcats at 9:14 AM on June 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Joining into the chorus to add support: this happens, and it is part of why Mrs Baggers and I don't foster anymore. Kittens are fragile things, and some of them will die, no matter what you do. Sometimes that happens for no reason you can ever find.

That's part of being a foster. You can just do the best you can, and move on and decide if you can deal with that, or not.
posted by baggers at 3:49 PM on June 3, 2014

I've never fostered and have nothing to add about panleukopenia, but I wanted to send my best wishes your way. What you've been through is heartbreaking to read; I can't imagine having to live through it. My thoughts are with you and your two remaining fosters.
posted by Wet Hen at 5:02 PM on June 3, 2014

I've followed several foster blogs over thee years. It happens to everyone eventually. I'm so sorry it happened to you.
posted by wotsac at 8:47 PM on June 3, 2014

I've worked with a local animal rescue for years, and one of our foster families had this happen a year back. I promise, no one blamed the family - it was heartbreaking for everyone, and we knew it was most terrible for them. As travelwthcats says, disinfect everything, especially shoes. I so sorry this happened, and I hope the other two make it!
posted by korej at 6:06 AM on June 4, 2014

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