Cat-borne disease outbreak affects Watauga Humane Society


The Appalachian Online

Nicole Caporaso

A disease outbreak has occurred at the Watauga Humane Society, leading to 76 cats having to be put down, said Laurie Vierheller, WHS executive director.
Panleukopenia, a highly contagious, but also preventable disease, affects cats and ferrets with symptoms including diarrhea, vomiting and neurological issues, such as head bobbing and muscle weakness, according to

“We take in about 2,000 animals per year and about half are strays or feral cats or come from neglect situations and those cats are not vaccinated,” Vierheller said. “So most likely it came in with one of the animals.”

Vierheller said all animals are vaccinated upon coming to the shelter, but the problem is the vaccine is not effective immediately.

“If the public vaccinated their cats we wouldn’t have to worry about it,” she said. “There are a lot of animals out there not vaccinated. It takes 3-7 days for the cats’ immunity to take to it and we vaccinate them when they come in, but if they get exposed to an animal with the disease, they’ll get sick.”

The remainder of the Humane Society’s cats are currently being fostered within the homes of people associated with the shelter. Vierheller estimates there are about 30 remaining cats.

“We have a group of cats there are in foster [care] coming back on the 15th, provided they don’t have symptoms,” she said. “We’ll start taking intakes again on the 18th.”

The Humane Society asks for understanding from the public on their situation, as putting down animals is a tough situation.

“It has been necessary to humanely euthanize a number of animals to prevent further spread of this disease and be able to safely reopen for intakes before we run into severely cold weather conditions,” according to “We have been able to reduce the number of animals to be euthanized since our initial estimate, thanks to some careful analysis of the outbreak, the assistance of our veterinarian and the assistance of board members who have been able to foster a number of pets with a low risk of exposure at secure locations.”

Story: Nicole Caporaso, Senior News Reporter