More than 300,000 cats are suspected to have been killed by a feline coronavirus outbreak.
The popular tourist destination Cyprus, sometimes referred to as the “island of cats”, is in the grips of the epidemic, affecting both stray and domestic cats.
Prompting a stark warning from experts that the area could soon be known as the “island of dead cats” if things continue.
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The animals have been killed by feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), a coronavirus strain, since January.
And experts warn many more cats could die in Cyrpus, with fears the virus could make its way to the UK.
The feline coronavirus, which does not affect humans, is lethal when left untreated.
Speaking to The Telegraph, Dr Demetris Epaminondas, vice-president of the Pancyprian Veterinary Association said: “Local veterinarians have been reporting an alarming increase in FIP cases, which started in the capital city of Nicosia in January and spread throughout the whole island within three to four months”.
The vet added that this is the first “outbreak of this extent” ever reported, with previous FIP clusters generally restricted to catteries.
While the virus typically affects young cats, it can affect cats of all ages. Symptoms include fever, abdominal swelling, energy loss, and sometimes even increased hostility.
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Prof Danièlle Gunn-Moore, a specialist in feline medicine at the University of Edinburgh, told the publication that an outbreak of this size “has never been seen in living or reported history."
Reports of dead cats laying in the streets suggest this could be a new, deadlier strain of FIP – however, this has not been confirmed through tests.
They added: “There is already some evidence – albeit anecdotal – that it may already be in Turkey, Lebanon and potentially Israel.
“If this virus gets to the UK it could cause many of our cats to die. It would be heartbreaking. We must take this seriously.”
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Although just 107 cases have been officially reported, vets and animal advocates estimate the real figure is far higher.
“We have lost 300,000 cats since January [from FIP],” Dinos Ayiomamitis, head of Cats PAWS Cyprus and vice-president of Cyprus Voice for Animals, told Agence France Presse.
The island’s feline population is estimated at around one million.
Due to the number of strays living on the island, documenting and diagnosing cases of infection has been described as “almost impossible”.
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