In response to recent problems with attacks by stray cats and concerns about rabies exposure, Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey, is planning to round up all the stray cats they can catch. Cats will be monitored in rented trailers for 60 days, and any cats that do not have signs of rabies will be adopted out (after being vaccinated and spayed/neutered). It’s perhaps overly optimistic that all cats will be adoptable, since not all strays (especially older cats) are going to be appropriate for household pets, but they will hopefully find good homes for many of these cats.
While this program could be beneficial in some ways, let’s hope a lot of thought has been put into it. This type of mass roundup and confinement is quite likely going to result in high transmission of many infectious diseases that circulate in the stray cat population. Hopefully there are plans for proper initial health assessment of captured cats, isolation of cats showing signs of infectious disease, cohorting of different groups to reduce the risk of disease transmission and use of good general infection control practices. Without these, they are asking for major problems. Unfortunately, infection control is often not considered in situations like this until a major disease outbreak is already underway.
The 60 day quarantine period may raise questions, but it’s a reasonable approach. If they were doing a formal rabies quarantine, it would be six months. The maximum incubation period for rabies in cats is not known, but it can be very long in humans in rare instances. Realistically, 60 days is a pretty good quarantine period under these circumstances. You can’t be 100% certain that an animal isn’t incubating rabies after 60 days, but it becomes very unlikely and I wouldn’t be concerned after 60 days. Sixty days is also a good amount of time to identify (and hopefully address) any other major health issues.
Another issue that needs to be considered is ongoing population control efforts such as continued catching and adopting of strays, catching and neutering strays, and educational efforts to encourage people to have their cats spayed or neutered and discourage them from feeding strays. A lot of time and money can be put into a big one-time effort, but this town might end up in exactly the same stray cat situation in a year or two if nothing else is done.