Staff at Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation (WRR) in southern Texas are urging people to remember that good intentions are no match for expert care after two bobcat kittens died from a highly lethal feline virus.
According to CBS Austin, a woman in Atascosa County turned the kittens over to animal services after her family members sustained multiple bites and scratches from the creatures, which they maintain were discovered abandoned in a rural shack and mistaken for Bengals – a rare and expensive breed of domestic cat.
The two wild animals were then brought to WRR veterinarians, who immediately placed them into quarantine. Sadly, the kittens showed signs of feline panleukopenia virus (FPV), a kind of parvovirus that attacks cells lining the digestive tract. Symptoms of the incredibly contagious disease, also known as feline distemper, include severe diarrhea, dehydration, malnutrition, lethargy, anemia, and self-biting of the tail and feet. Affected cats can die from low blood pressure, hypothermia, massive internal secondary infections, or blood clots less than 24 hours after signs first emerge.
"The incubation period for the virus is around 14 days, so the bobcat kittens likely contracted the virus in the two weeks before their death," WRR vet Mason Payne told San Antonio-based news station KSAT-12.
"Because of their history and how they came to WRR, it is impossible to know whether the bobcats received proper immunity from their mother’s colostrum – the first milk produced by the mother – which would have transferred antibodies to the two kittens."
If caught early enough, veterinarians are very good at treating FPV with supportive therapy (fluids, easily digestible food, and broad-spectrum antibiotics to prevent septic shock) and antivirals. However, the best option is prevention; vets recommend house cats get their first vaccination against FPV at six to eight weeks of age, followed by a booster at one or two years.
Payne and his colleagues estimate that the bobcats were two months old when they were taken by the family. They survived for about a month at WRR. In the wild, bobcat kittens are weaned at around two months and begin to learn how to hunt alongside their mothers at around five months. By the age of eight to 11 months, they leave the family unit to establish territories of their own.
Multiple reports confirm that the family has received a criminal citation.
"No human can replicate the care given by a mother or father in the wild," WRR officials posted to Facebook. "We are saddened by this tragedy but must take this important opportunity to repeat the message that wild animals should be left alone and only belong in the wild."