Media – Children in Furry Suits

Finding a Way to Save Lives
Pet lovers can mistakenly assign human emotions to members of a different species. Firmly believing that cats want everything we do doesn’t make it so. Cramming 26 of them into one household caused behavioral and physical stresses that weakened their immunity.

The Peabody cat family was sick. A growing number were discharging from their eyes and noses, spiking fevers, and eating poorly or not at all. Worse still, their feline herpes virus (FHV-1) epidemic was advancing. Nasal fluid was aerosolized by sneezing for sure, but there were behavioral factors too.

Cats are not little people in furry suits. In some respects they are wild animals we keep as pets. They can certainly form strong bonds but they are genetically programmed for outdoor survival in loose social groups. For some, a solitary life works best. Indoor crowded communal cohabiting made Briana and Nettie Peabody’s cats more vulnerable to chronic infection.

In the 1970s there was no test for FHV-1, nor drugs for its treatment. We knew it by its symptoms so we helped these sick cats feel better. But my attempts to control this outbreak were failing. Two of the Peabody cats had already died. The burden was breaking our hearts. The most effective solution was off the table: reduce the crowding by euthanizing the sick cats.

Like herpes, feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is often a lifelong disease that can seriously hamper a cat’s ability to control infection. Evidence-based medicine requires us to diagnose first and treat second. And so we set aside a Saturday afternoon for Brianna to shuttle cats to my veterinary clinic for leukemia testing, little round heads peering out the sides of her aging hearse. A few drops of blood from each of the 24 survivors led to sobering news. A full dozen were infected with FeLV and herpes. Their chances of survival were poor. And they posed a heavy risk to their feline compadres.

We had to help; there was no giving up. Next week: Could these doting cat parents make the hard choices? Could anybody?
For help with behavior problems, you can sign-up for a Zoom Group Conference on my website,

Dr. Jeff Nichol is a residency-trained veterinary behaviorist. He provides consultations in-person and in groups by Zoom (505-792-5131). Each week he shares a blog and a Facebook Live video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at Post pet behavioral or physical questions on or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.