The Cat Protection Society of NSW has announced a positive change in owner attitudes to responsible cat ownership, with its latest Ipsos survey showing a 9% increase in the number of vaccinated pet cats since last year. But with kitten season around the corner, it’s no time to be complacent about keeping our felines healthy, said Cat Protection CEO Kristina Vesk.

“International Cat Day on 8 August is a timely moment to reflect on the improvements in cat welfare that have been achieved in New South Wales, and to celebrate the joy that our feline friends bring to our lives,” said Ms Vesk.

The increase in cat vaccination rates follows the re-emergence of the deadly Feline Panleukopaenia Virus (FPV, feline parvovirus, feline enteritis) in Sydney in early 2017. It was the first outbreak in almost 40 years, since the introduction of the highly effective F3 vaccine. FPV is contagious and almost always fatal in young kittens; even healthy adult cats are unlikely to survive if they haven’t been vaccinated. There is no cure.

Herd immunity requires that greater than 70% of the population is vaccinated. The Ipsos survey conducted in 2017 and commissioned by Cat Protection found that in May last year 78% of pet cats were vaccinated. However, since much of the Sydney cat population is unowned, this didn’t mean that 78% of all cats were vaccinated, explained Ms. Vesk.

Cat Protection’s response to the outbreak was swift and sustained. A discounted vaccination program was put in place and a number of free vaccination clinics were held in partnership with Vanessa Barrs, University of Sydney Professor of Feline Medicine and Infectious Diseases.

Additionally, along with a number of Sydney vet clinics, from August to October 2017, Cat Protection ran a special program, Herding Cats, where vaccination cost just $10 and participants were invited to allow a blood sample to be taken from their cat. These samples were for a study led by Professor Barrs into the seroprevalence of FPV in cats in Sydney. The results will help the researchers understand why there was a re-emergence of the disease and inform future vaccination strategies.

Finally, Cat Protection invested in public advertising on the importance of cat vaccination, including a poster campaign on Sydney Trains. In the 12 months to June 2018, Cat Protection’s free and discounted programs saw 1,000 cats vaccinated.

“The great news is that the June 2018 survey showed 85% of pet cats are now vaccinated – a nine per cent increase,” Ms Vesk said. “This is a significant result and great news for cats, but we can’t be complacent and we won’t be winding back our efforts. The next kitten season is around the corner and with the risk that FPV is still present in many environments, ensuring a high rate of vaccination is vital.

Cat owners in Sydney who hold a pension or health care card can get their cat desexed and vaccinated for just $50 under our current 500 Cats Challenge, where Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health has donated the vaccines and participating vets have discounted their normal fees. We also provide year-round discounted desexing and vaccination programs.

“With 90% of pet cats desexed, 85% vaccinated and 77% registered, the outlook for feline welfare is positive. But continued community effort and education, as well as a financial subsidy to assist cat owners on low incomes, are needed.”

Research by Professor Barrs at the University of Sydney has identified two major strains of FPV. One is responsible for outbreaks in Sydney and the Central Coast and the other caused outbreaks in Melbourne, Geelong, and Mildura. Professor Barrs’ research is now focused on determining whether other viruses are “hitching a ride” in cats affected with panleukopaenia, as well as measuring herd immunity in an outbreak and non-outbreak regions of Australia. This information will provide valuable insights into why the disease has re-emerged to cause large-scale outbreaks in Australia.