FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What exactly do you people do?
Okaloosa Animal Control (OAC) provide a wide range of services to residents of Okaloosa County. Our mission goals are public safety and health. Secondary to this is to help residents deal with animal issues. We patrol for stray dogs, lend out traps to help citizens remove stray cats and small nuisance wildlife, pick up sick and injured animals and transport them to Veterinarians, Rehabilitation Centers and Animal Shelters. There the animals will receive care and medical treatment as necessary. We provide education about wildlife and referrals for need-specific services that go beyond what we provide. We investigate animal bites and reports of neglect and cruelty. We lend nearly three-dozen traps weekly and service dozens more taking stray animals to the shelters and relocate all types of wildlife. If we do not provide a service you need, in most instances, we can refer you to a person or agency that does. We now operate two animal shelters in Okaloosa County. We spay and neuter the animals we put up for adoption. We assist in picking up animals during Natural Disasters such as wild fires and hurricane evacuations. These are just some of the many services that we provide to the residents of Okaloosa County.
Why does it take so long for Animal Enforcement Officer’s to respond?
We are a small department in comparison to other county agencies in Okaloosa County. The faster response of other agencies is due to their greater numbers. We average a little over 300 calls for service daily. OAS has about 7 Animal Enforcement Officers to provide coverage area 24 hours per day. The animal populace exponentially outnumbers the people populous in Okaloosa County by an even greater ratio. There are over 5 cities and townships in addition to unincorporated areas of Okaloosa County, which we provide full coverage with approximately 7 field officers 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.
What should we do until you arrive to help?
Try to remain calm. Call 911 if you are reporting a life-threatening situation. 911 can respond police and rescue units faster than we can in such instances. For non-life threatening situations call us directly. When you call, tell the Telecommunicator your situation. Telecommunicators have a wealth of information, and in many instances can help you help yourself without having to wait for an Enforcement Officer to respond. The Telecommunicator will also evaluate the circumstances of your call to determine if a Field Officer should respond and a case report will be initiated. Please provide your name, address, phone number, and directions on how best to get to your location. Also have a description of the animal(s) and the owner address, if known. Providing this information can expedites your call. Please stay on the phone until the Telecommunicator gets the information typed in and reads it back to you for accuracy and confirmation.
Can I remain anonymous?
Yes. However, in doing so, you have to provide an exact address to respond to and provide more information about the circumstances of your call. We will investigate based on information provided. We respond to anonymous calls for the protection of the animal. If it is determined that the initial call is unfounded (has no merit), follow up anonymous calls about the same thing may not be responded to without the caller leaving their name, address and telephone number.
What are your operating hours?
We are open Monday through Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:36 p.m. An officer is on duty Sunday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. We are closed all major Holidays. We provide emergency service after hours and on holidays through our after hours answering service.
What do you consider an emergency?
Emergencies are life threatening conditions such as aggressive animals, animals that have bitten someone, injured or sick animals with someone standing by with the animal until we arrive, and animals inside the living area of a dwelling that are of a high risk for rabies, such as Bats and Raccoons. All bite cases.
Where are you located?
752 Lovejoy Road; Fort Walton Beach, Florida 32548
Why do I have to trap stray cats?
Catching cats not confined in some way such as in a room, garage, shed, etc., is difficult. There are many places for a cat to hide or climb, putting them out of reach. Cats may be friendly to a resident but will run from an officer because of all the animal smells on the officer’s uniform. Officer uniforms smell of dogs, raccoons, etc., which are natural enemies to a cat. When a cat smells these scents they instinctively flee to safety. Because of this we do not take cats being held by people. This could cause the person holding the cat to get scratched or bitten exposing the person to potential rabies. Because of limited resources and the high degree of failure in catching cats out in the open it has become necessary for residents to trap cats before we can successfully remove them from an area.
Can you bring me a trap?
We lend out traps to residents but we do not deliver them. We can place you on our waiting list and when a trap becomes available you will be notified of the date, time and location where you can pick up a trap. These traps are issued on a Monday and have to be returned by close of business on Friday of the same week. There is a $40 refundable deposit required on the trap, which you can pay by cash or check. The deposit is held and returned to you when you return the trap to us. Animals that you catch while you have the trap, simply call us at 244-0196 and we will send an officer out to remove them. There is no charge for servicing the trap.
I need a trap now! Is there any other place where I can rent, purchase or borrow a trap?
Yes. We can give you a retailer near you where you can rent a trap for a small fee. You can purchase traps at places like Lowe’s, Home Depot, etc.
If I get a trap elsewhere and catch something where do I take the animal?
Dogs and cats may be taken to one of the animal shelters located in Okaloosa County. However, you do not have to take the animal anywhere. Call us and we will come out to your home and remove the animal free of charge. You do not need a license to trap and transport cats and dogs. You do not need a license to trap wildlife but you do need a license to transport wildlife.
What happens to the animals when you take them from the trap?
Domestic animals such as cats or dogs are taken to the Animal Care Centers. Healthy wildlife is relocated nearby. Injured or sick wildlife is taken to a rehabber for evaluation to determine if medical treatment can help the animal fully recover. If so, the animal is turned over to a rehabber for treatment and then released back to the wild.
Does it take someone getting mauled or killed before you people will remove this vicious dog from these irresponsible owners?
No. But as long as an owner keeps his dog(s) confined to his property and complies with animal ordinances we cannot take any action against the owner to include taking the person’s dog from them. Animals are property and cannot be taken without due process of law. If the dog is violating the leash laws or other County Ordinances we will deal with the violation(s) appropriately. Officers must witness violations or a resident who has witnessed a violation must provide our department with a properly prepared notarized affidavit.
My neighbor has a vicious pitbull. It is in a fenced area but it is a pitbull and I am afraid of it. How do I go about getting it removed from the neighborhood?
It is NOT against any law in Okaloosa County to own a pitbull or any other type of dog. We do not breed discriminate in Okaloosa County. As long as the owner complies with applicable animal ordinances he/she may own any breed of canine.
I am the manager of a mobile home park and we have restrictions on pets and do not allow large breed dogs in our park. We have a tenant that has a Rottweiler and we need you to make them get rid of it?
I’m sorry but Animal Services and Enforcement cannot enforce your restrictions or contractual agreements with your tenants. We can only enforce violations of the Okaloosa County Animal Ordinances.
Why was an Animal Services vehicle at my house this morning?
The requester’s address is obtained and a search is done on the computer. If we had a call we will tell the requester why the officer was in the neighborhood or at their address. In many cases, the officer may have received a call to do a patrol in the neighborhood and has simply stopped to complete his patrol report. If an officer stops at a residence on a trouble call, he/she will leave an orange “door tag” notice.
I’ve lost my cat or dog, what do I do?
First, make sure you drive around the neighborhood. If you know of any other pet owners check with them, your pet may go there to socialize. Second, contact your local animal shelter or better yet go there and look around. Any animals found that we pick up are taken to one of our animal shelters. Third, make sure you keep your animal license tag updated with home and alternate telephone numbers. If someone finds your pet and calls in the license number we can look it up and give them your information and help reunite you with your pet much faster.
I have a problem with wild animals (raccoons, opossums, etc) getting into my garbage, what should I do?
Wildlife habitat is shrinking in Okaloosa County. This has forced wildlife to live among people in residential communities. Raccoons and Opossum are scavengers and will eat anything from grubs, citrus fruit, birdseeds, and cat and dog food, even scraps in garbage cans. Keeping lids locked down and weighted down will help keep wildlife out of your garbage cans. Opossum like to sleep in garbage cans during daylight hours and Raccoons are very adept at opening trashcan lids. It may be necessary to build a wire cage around your trashcans to keep the raccoons and other animals out. Trapping is an alternative that should only be used as a last resort. Remember any food source left outside is an attraction for these types of wildlife. Do not leave cat and dog food outside. If you must feed your pets outside make sure you take up the feed dishes after feeding and if possible spray some Lysol or other type air refresher where the food dishes were. The absence of smell of potential food will help keep these wildlife animals from taking up residence at your house.
I have a snake in my yard and do not know what kind it is or where it is now. What should I do?
Don’t panic. Usually they are just passing through. There are 33 different species of snakes indigenous to Okaloosa County. Only four of these snakes are venomous. It is not uncommon to see snakes. Our department will respond as quickly as possible to remove them. But because snakes usually don’t stay in one place very long we ask that you keep an eye on it until we can get there. Should the snake disappear from your sight, we ask that you call us back and cancel the call. In most cases we never get follow up calls. We do not have the resources that would permit officers the time needed to hunt for snakes. If you want someone to come out and search for snakes there are Animal Removal Services listed in the yellow pages of your phone book that you may hire to provide this service.
What if there is a snake is inside my home?
Animal Services will respond to a snake in your home 24 hours per day however, you must keep an eye on the snake until the officer arrives.
My neighbor’s dog gets out all the time and chases me. What can I do?
You can protect yourself from harm by any means necessary. If you have a chronic problem with a neighbor’s dog getting loose and chasing you, get to safety and call us. If the dog is out when we arrive on scene we may impound the dog. We will speak with the owner and take other action as may be necessary when the officer arrives on scene.
Does the leash law really apply to cats?
Yes. It is a violation of Okaloosa County Animal Ordinance Chapter 5.1.3, which states, “No animal shall be permitted or allowed to be at large.” The leash law is the same for cats and dogs. Cats and dogs cannot be left unattended unless confined to the owner’s property by leash or fencing mechanism. When walking cats or dogs, a leash must be used with one end attached securely to the animal and the other end under the physical control of a person capable of handling the animal.
I have bees, you are animal services, and can you come and remove them?
No. Bees are stinging insects and include yellow jackets, wasps, hornets, etc. These insects are considered household pests and are therefore the resident’s responsibility. We encourage you to contact a pest removal service to come out to remove stinging insects. A hive can literally harbor tens of thousands of stinging insects and dealing with them can be very dangerous. A professional is your best and safest way to have them removed.
How long is going to take for an Officer to get here?
We do not give out estimated times of arrival. The reason is that we simply don’t know because of the many variables involved. Much depends on the number of officers that are on duty, the number of calls of equal or higher urgency, and the number of calls that may follow your call of a higher urgency. We have no way of knowing what type of call or how many calls are going to come in that will effect our response time for your call.
I don’t care about anyone else; I want you to take care of my problem now. Make my call the highest urgency call. So what, if I lie and file a false report or urgency?
Lying and filing a false report or urgency just to get a faster response could land you in big trouble. More importantly, lying and filing a false report or urgency could take us away from a legitimate emergency, which could result in pets, children and adults sustaining injury.
Do you pick up dead animals?
No. The only exception is dead animals at a day care, school, or near a bus stop.
How can I get rid of armadillos around my house?
Armadillos are coming onto your property to look for food. If there is no food, they will not stay. The food they are looking for is probably insects and larvae. These insects can damage your lawn as well as attract armadillos. So if you treat your lawn and get rid of the pest the armadillos will follow. You can also use a form of fertilizer called blood meal. The odor is offensive to armadillos and helps keep them away. There are also commercial repellants you can find at hardware or feed stores.
I keep trapping raccoons around my house but the next night another one shows up, what can I do about these animals?
If raccoons are on your property each night foraging (not just passing through) they are looking for food and you are on the list of likely places to find it. Look around to see if your garbage cans are left open, or if pet food is left out after feedings, these things may be attracting the raccoons. If you live near heavily wooded areas the animals are always going to be there due to the territorial range of the animal. Before you start trapping decide if the raccoons are pests or if they are just part of the neighborhood. If you put out food for birds or squirrels don’t be surprised when the opossum and raccoon show up to share in the festivities.
I saw a raccoon, opossum, or fox in my yard during the day; does this mean it has rabies?
No, raccoons will forage around the clock if they are hungry. They will also forage if they have a litter to feed. If the animal is exhibiting unusual behavior such as, staggering, snarling, walking in circles or falling down it could be rabid, call Animal Services (244-0196). As with all wildlife, stay away from it.
I saw an opossum in my trashcan and when I approached it hissed at me and it looks really sick, is that a sign of rabies?
No, the opossum was warning you not to come any closer. Opossums naturally look sick so it is really difficult to tell by looks alone. Opossums are not carriers of the rabies virus such as Raccoons. Nor are they a good host for rabies due to low body temperature. However, as with the raccoons, look for unusual behavior, biting at the air, inability to walk or climb to determine if the animal might have a problem. The opossum’s natural defense is to play dead hence the term “playing possum”. But, if you get to close it will hiss at you and display a formidable array of teeth.
Can I give my dog or cat rabies vaccinations?
No, the only vaccinations given by a licensed veterinarian are considered valid in Florida for dogs, cats and ferrets.
My roommate has a dog and I help take care of it when he’s at work, when I let the dog go out he won’t come back when I call. Can I be held responsible for the dog?
Yes, as a caregiver you can be held responsible for the activity of the animal and can receive citations. Work with the dog and your roommate to find a way to control the dog.
My dogs like to ride in the back of my truck, what are the laws regarding him riding back there?
If your dog is riding in the back of a pickup truck it needs to be restrained by a minimum of two tethers fixed to opposite sides of the vehicle and attached to a collar or harness being worn by the animal. The animal can also be confined in a humane manner inside a locked animal carrier mounted in the bed of the truck in such a way as not to slide out or fall off the truck.
My dog died, can I bury him in the backyard or do you guys have to come get him?
Your pet can be buried in your backyard if you are the owner of the property or have the property owner’s permission. As a rule of thumb you will need to bury your pet as deep as it is long. We can come and remove it for you but there is a $50.00 removal fee.
I just bought a dog from someone and it was sick (or it died) is there a law against that?
Yes. The Pet Lemon Law provided protection to consumers; you should call the Department of Agriculture at (410) 571-8692 or (800) 435-7352.
My dog has all of its vaccinations and is not mean but it bit a neighbor and now I am being asked all kinds of questions and they are talking about some type of quarantine. What does all this mean?
In Florida, when a dog or cat bites or scratches another person or animal it must be placed on quarantine no matter what the rabies vaccination status is. The questions are for a bite report we are required by law to fill out. Be patient and cooperate with the officer and everything will be fine. You should also analyze why the dog bit and what you should do to prevent future incidents of this type.
I think there is a squirrel, rat, bat, cat, or raccoon in my attic that has built a nest. How can I get it out?
These animals like your attic because it is cozy and quiet and the perfect place for a home. To get them out you need to make it not so cozy. The first thing you should do is figure out how the animal is getting into the attic. Then cover all the ways in except one, so the critter can get out. Place some sort of bright light in the attic such as one of those “clamp on type” lights and leave it on around the clock. Then place a radio in the attic, as close to the suspected nest as safely possible and tune it to a rock or talk station and play it as loud as possible. Do this for several days to allow the animal time to find or build a new nest and to move any babies that might be present. Check the nest after a day or so and if it is empty seal the last hole.
Our dog just died and we want to get another one, how do we adopt a shelter animal?
The first thing you need to do is visit a shelter near you to pick out and get to know a dog or cat. All of the shelters in Okaloosa County have areas where you and a prospective pet can interact with each other. If you already have a pet you can bring it and see if they will get along. You will then be required to fill out an application for adoptions and pay a fee. The animal will also need to be spayed or neutered either at the shelter or by a licensed vet. All of the shelters in the county have knowledgeable people who can answer animal related questions for you. There are wonderful animal companions waiting for you at any one of the shelters in Okaloosa County, you owe it to yourself to stop by. And remember donations are always appreciated at your local shelter.
I love animals and would like to volunteer to help a good cause can I volunteer at PAWS?
PAWS is located on 572 Lovejoy Road and they welcome volunteers to help out at the shelter. CLICK HERE to find out more information.
What can I do about stray cats around my house?
Cats are covered by the same leash laws as dogs. When not on the owner’s property a leash must be used to restrain the cat. Cats are not allowed to run loose and come onto your property. If the cats can be identified the complainant can file a sworn affidavit and Animal Services will issue a citation to the owner. Due to a cat’s ability to evade capture by humans, our officers will not come to your home to capture strays, however you can trap the cats and we will send an officer out to remove the animal from the trap. We will loan you the trap and give you instructions on how to use it.
Can you come and get an alligator that is swimming around in my pool?
Yes, as long as the alligator is less than 4 ft. long. Otherwise, the Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission at (888) 404-3922 will be the agency to call if an alligator is a nuisance or poses a danger. However if the alligator is an immediate threat we can, and will respond to a call for aid.
There is a baby bird on the ground hopping around under a tree can you come out and put it back in the tree?
The best bet is to leave it alone. Baby birds fall out of trees as they learn to fly. The parents will still feed and tend to it on the ground but not if it becomes the center of human attention. So watch out for neighborhood cats and let nature take it’s course. If the bird is in danger and you can’t reach the nest you can make a temporary nest by hanging a flowerpot from a branch in the same tree and putting the bird in it. The parents will feed and care for the bird in the new nest; contrary to the “old wives tale” birds do not smell human contact. Or, call the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge at 650-1880.
Can I take my dog to a deserted stretch of beach and let him run?
No. Dogs are not allowed on any beach in Okaloosa County.
Is this where I pay my citation fine?
No. But you will find the locations on the back of the citation. You will need to pay fines at one of the County Court Houses.
I have rats; can you come out and trap them?
No. Animal Services does not come out to remove rats, you can either look in your yellow pages for a pest removal company.
What is the difference between you and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conversation Commission (FWCC)? And, What are some of the things they do that you do not?
Animal Services is unique to Okaloosa County. The FWCC is a State agency. The FWCC deal with all alligator problems and enforces laws against feeding certain wildlife such as Sandhill Cranes and Raccoons. They also respond to all Protected, Threatened and Endangered Species such as the Scrub Jay, Great Blue Heron, Brown Pelican, and Manatees to name but a few. They are also the fastest way to get help for beached sea mammals such as whales, sea turtles, dolphins and manatees. Their emergency number is 1-888-404-3922. The FWCC has a detailed listing of wildlife rehabbers and transporters in Okaloosa County who may be able to assist you with the birds and animals listed above.
I saw an injured crane with a broken leg or missing leg, Can you come get it?
Birds with a broken leg, which still have the capability to fly, are best left alone. As long as the bird can fly it can sustain itself. Trying to catch a bird, especially the larger sea birds, can do more damage to the bird than leaving it along. If a bird has a broken wing or cannot fly because it is to weak then it can be helped. You should call the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge at 850- 650-1880 for first response.
I have a pigeon in my yard that has been for two days now, I think it may be injured; can you come get it?
It is not unusual for a pigeon to behave this way, especially if it is a banded or courier pigeon. These birds are still widely used as messenger/courier birds. They can sometimes fly great distances to deliver their message. They often stop to rest and eat for several days before continuing their mission. As long as they can fly, this is probably just what they are doing. If you are overly concerned, take a couple of pots and run at the bird banging the pots together. If the bird can fly this will surely motivate him to demonstrate his flight capability to you, even if it is a short flight.
Does Animal Services have any educational programs where you come out and address Home Owner Associations, Schools, etc?
Yes. We have an Outreach Program and you can schedule him to come speak at your school, homeowner’s association meeting, etc. We often attend community functions such as the State Fair and other activities of this nature setting up a display and answering questions and giving out important literature. If you would like to schedule our Outreach Officer please give us a call at 244-0196 and ask for Dee Thompson.
Does Okaloosa County have a dog park?
Yes, there is a new dog park in Niceville. There is an unsupervised pet walk area located at the Mullet Festival fairgrounds, just north of Niceville on Florida Hwy. 85. It is a great place to exercise your dog! The park is open dawn to 10 p.m., at which time lights will shut off automatically. This is a completely fenced-in (double gates), shaded area of about 5-acres with large oak trees. Each pet owner is responsible for their dog’s waste clean-up. For more information e-mail or call the Niceville Recreation Dept at 1-850-729-4062.
Directions – If you are traveling from Fort Walton Beach you will come into Niceville on Highway 85 North, turn left on John Sims Parkway and then turn left on Hwy 85 North, travel approximately 2 miles and turn right into the entrance to the Ball Park just a bit north of Hwy 85 and College Blvd. Traveling from Crestview on Hwy 85 South you will see the Ball Park on your left just as you enter Niceville.
Is there a leash law in Okaloosa County?
Yes, the leash law can also be found in Ordinance 92-25 and states that all dogs and cats must be confined to the owners property unless on a leash and/or accompanied by a responsible person.
How do I become a Foster Care Provider?
You can read all about our foster program here.
Are there any pet friendly parks or beaches in Okaloosa County?
The law prohibits animals on all public beaches in Okaloosa County. There is a dog friendly park in downtown Fort Walton Beach at the Fort Walton Beach Landing on Brooks Street. Dogs are allowed at the park as long as they are wearing proof of a current rabies vaccination and are on a leash accompanied by a responsible adult.
Can my dog ride in the back of my pick-up truck?
Yes, but it must be tethered or in a kennel. The tether must be long enough that the dog can lay down but short enough so it can’t get over the side of the truck or the tailgate.
What is canine “kennel cough”?
“Kennel cough” is the common name for a highly contagious upper respiratory disease of dogs. It is caused by canine parainfluenza virus; a bacterium called Bordetella bronchiseptica, or a combination of these two (and possibly other viruses and bacteria). Veterinarians may refer to kennel cough as infectious tracheobronchitis (ITB), canine upper respiratory infection (CURI), or canine contagious respiratory disease (CCRD). Kennel cough is commonly seen in dogs that are exposed to many other dogs in places such as animal shelters or boarding kennels. Kennel cough is “species specific”, meaning it infects only dogs and puppies, not cats or humans.
HOW IS IT TRANSMITTED?
Kennel cough is transferred between dogs by fluid discharge from the mouth or nose of an infected dog, similar to the transfer of the common cold between humans. Dogs can shed the virus through the air by sneezing, coughing or breathing, or by direct physical contact with cages, toys, food bowls, even the hands and clothes of people handling them. Some dogs may be “silent carriers”, carrying and spreading the virus without showing any symptoms of the disease themselves.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS?
The most common symptom of kennel cough is a dry cough (sometimes described as “honking”) and in some cases gagging after the cough. The cough is often brought on by excitement, exercise, or pressure on the dog’s trachea, such as that produced by a leash. Some dogs will only exhibit a runny nose. Affected dogs are usually otherwise alert and active, with a healthy appetite and no fever. In some cases, kennel cough may progress to pneumonia. In these cases, dogs will cough up mucous, have nasal discharge, have difficulty breathing, run a fever, lose their appetites, and become depressed.
WHICH DOGS GET IT?
Any dog that is stressed by overcrowding, poor nutrition, cold or heat, age, fear, or infection with another disease is susceptible to kennel cough. Dogs who are especially at risk for infection include unvaccinated dogs, puppies (because they have immature immune systems), and dogs whose immune systems are compromised by another disease, such as heartworm disease, cancer, malnutrition, or parasites. Well-vaccinated dogs who have healthy immune systems may still be susceptible to the disease, but symptoms are very mild and short-term, usually limited to 5-10 days of coughing with no fever loss or loss of appetite.
HOW IS KENNEL COUGH TREATED?
Kennel cough is a “self-limiting” disease, meaning that in most dogs, it will go away in 5 to 10 days without treatment. Because most shelter dogs and puppies are under stress, antibiotics are often prescribed by the attending veterinarian to prevent or treat secondary bacterial infections that may accompany the infection. Occasionally a veterinarian will prescribe a cough suppressant to make the dog feel better and to decrease the throat irritation caused by coughing. In rare cases, kennel cough may progress to pneumonia, requiring more intense medical therapy and possibly hospitalization.
HOW IS KENNEL COUGH PREVENTED?
Kennel cough cannot be totally prevented in the shelter environment; many dogs will enter the shelter already infected, and the stress of being sheltered will lead to full-blown disease and spread of infection to other dogs and puppies. The shelter’s goal should be to limit the disease as much as possible, and to strengthen the health of all sheltered dogs so that infections are mild and short-lived. Sanitation programs, health evaluation, isolation of sick and injured dogs, and preventative health care (vaccinations and deworming) all play a part in the control of kennel cough. Many types and names of vaccines are available to counter kennel cough. The vaccination protocol used should be determined by a veterinarian who is familiar with the special health needs of sheltered dogs and puppies and who is familiar with your shelter’s environment and its inhabitants.
What is Feline Upper Respiratory Infection?
Feline upper respiratory infection, or feline URI as it is commonly called is a highly contagious disease affecting the nasal passages and sinuses of cats and kittens. It is common in animal shelters, catteries, multiple cat households, and free-roaming cat populations. Almost all cases of feline URI are caused by infection with one of two viruses: feline herpesvirus (also known as feline rhinotrachetis virus) and feline calicivirus. These two viruses are “species specific”, meaning they infect only cats and kittens, not dogs or humans.
HOW IS IT TRANSMITTED?
Feline URI is transferred between cats by fluid discharged from the mouths and noses of infected cats, similar to the transfer of flu virus between humans. Cats can shed the virus through the air by sneezing, coughing, or breathing; or by direct physical contact with cages, toys, food bowls, even the hands and clothes of people handling them. Cats who have previously had the disease are often “silent carriers”, meaning they shed the virus and can infect other cats without showing symptoms of the disease themselves.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS?
Symptoms of feline URI include sneezing; fever; runny nose or red, watery eyes; nasal congestion (often seen as drooling or open-mouthed breathing); ulcers on tongue, gums, lips, nose, or roof of mouth; mild to severe depression; and lack of appetite or thirst. Kittens infected with feline calicivirus may develop what is known as “limping kitten syndrome”, featuring fever and painful swelling of the joints, especially the joints of the rear legs. Symptoms of feline URI are generally mild at first and worsen within one to three days. The incubation period (the time period between infection and the first signs of illness) lasts from 2 to 17 days. The illness itself typically lasts from one to four weeks, depending on the strength of the cat’s immune system.
WHICH CATS GET IT?
Any cat that is stressed by overcrowding, poor nutrition, cold or heat, or infection with another disease is susceptible to feline URI. Cats who are especially at risk for infection include unvaccinated cats, kittens (because they have immature immune systems), and cats whose immune systems are compromised by another disease, such as feline leukemia (FeLV), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), cancer, malnutrition, or parasites. Recently vaccinated cats who have healthy immune systems are still susceptible to the disease, but symptoms are usually very mild, and short-term, usually limited to three to five days of sneezing with no fever and no loss of appetite.
HOW IS FELINE URI TREATED?
Feline URI is easily treatable even though there are no drugs available to kill off the feline URI viruses, just as there are no drugs available to treat many human viruses. Treatment of feline URI is aimed at strengthening the cat’s body and immune system to help the animal fight the virus, and usually consists of vitamins, good nutrition, and good nursing care. Antibiotics are often prescribed to prevent or treat secondary bacterial infections that may accompany the viral infection. Infected cats may stop eating or drinking, and may require special therapy to combat dehydration and malnutrition. Some cats become sick enough to require hospitalization, and the disease can lead to fatal pneumonia if medical care is not provided. Almost all cats and kittens recover with proper care. A few cats may have chronic (long lasting) symptoms and some symptoms may reoccur whenever the cat is stressed or otherwise ill.
HOW IS FELINE URI PREVENTED?
Feline URI cannot be totally prevented in the shelter environment; many cats will enter the shelter already infected, and the stress of being sheltered will lead to full-blown disease and spread of the infection to other cats and kittens. The shelter’s goal should be to limit the disease as much as possible, and to strengthen the health of all sheltered cats so that infections are mild and short-lived. Sanitation programs, health evaluation, isolation of sick and injured animals, and preventative health care (vaccines and de-worming) all play a part in the control of feline URI. Many types and brand names of vaccines are available to counter feline URI. The vaccination protocol used should be determined by a veterinarian who is familiar with the special health needs of sheltered cats and kittens and who is familiar with your shelter’s environments and its inhabitants.
What should a pet owner do when a storm is approaching?
Be Prepared for Any Disaster…Plan ahead, if you plan to leave the area take your pet with you!
Have the following items ready ahead of time: Rabies and identification tags, Properly sized steel or fiberglass crate, Non-spill water and food bowls, Newspaper or paper towels for bedding, water in non-breakable containers, dry food, special medications, leashes, muzzle, manual can opener and some blankets or hay for warmth.
Take your pets inside as soon as the WARNING is announced. Pets could become frightened by the change in the weather and hide.
Make sure all pets are wearing proper identification. If you get separated, it will be their ticket home.
Photograph each pet every year. Keep this photo with the animals vet records.