Thursday 4 May 2023

2 instances when cat many owners destroyed their cats believing they'd catch a fatal disease from them

There have been a couple of high-profile instances when many cat owners deliberately destroyed their cat companions because they believed that they might catch a fatal disease from them.

AIDS in humans set of panic in nervous cat owners who killed their cats
AIDS in humans set off panic in nervous cat owners who killed their cats. Image: CNN.


Feline AIDS as it is sometimes called or Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) was discovered in 1986. In June 1981, the first cases of the illness now known as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) were reported from Los Angeles in five young homosexual men diagnosed with Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia and other opportunistic infections (CDC).

The news media reported on FIV in a way which scared the population into believing that they could catch the disease from their cats.

This led to some cat owners panicking and killing their cats. Within hours of the newspaper reports nervous cat owners were taking their cats to shelters and asking them to euthanise them or find new homes.

Eventually the news media researched the facts and reported that the virus that causes feline AIDS was not zoonotic i.e., it cannot be transmitted to humans but the damage had been done and many cats were killed unnecessarily.

It is true that the viruses causing human and feline AIDS belong to the same group of viruses but they are distantly related. There is no way a cat can give a human the disease even by biting and scratching them.


When this disease was first reported in the news media, I can well remember the effect it had on nervous cat owners in China. Those in high rise apartment blocks began throwing their cats out of the windows to their deaths on the paving below.

Cats thrown from tower blocks in China during the early days of the Covid pandemic
Cats thrown from tower blocks in China during the early days of the Covid pandemic. Image in public domain.

It was dire. And then as the pandemic progressed thousands of cat owners abandoned their pets in locked apartments for them to die of starvation. It was utterly mad.

At the time there was no media reports of the possibility of contracting the disease from companion animals so these cat killings were entirely out of panic. 

As it transpired it was found that Covid is zoonotic and can infect people. And people can get the disease from pets but even at the end of the pandemic there have been exceptionally few examples.

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