5 potential causes of mysterious illness ruled out for SWFL panthers, bobcats

Reporter: Taylor Smith Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:
Surveillance image of a Florida panther exhibiting symptoms linked to a neurological disorder affecting the hind legs, also seen in bobcats and pet dogs in Collier County. Credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Experts have ruled out causes of a mysterious illness impacting wildcats in Southwest Florida this year.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission ruled out five potential causes for a neurological disorder most noticeably affecting the hind legs of Florida panthers and bobcats in Collier County.


  • Distemper
  • Feline leukemia
  • Ticks
  • Inbreeding
  • Cane toads

“This is very concerning,” said Tiffany Wallace in Golden Gate. “I had a situation with my dog about two weeks ago. She all of a sudden was having difficulty standing walking and falling.”

Wallace said her dog recovered, but she wonders if it’s connected to the disorder seen in panthers.

“When it starts to affect people’s pets, people take that really seriously,” Wallace said. “I’m surprised it’s not the toads. There’s so many now, and they have taken over.”

But FWC said in a statement: “FWC wildlife veterinarians have no evidence that pet dogs are affected by the same disorder that has been observed in panthers and bobcats at this time.

“Given the similarity between what we’re seeing in some panthers and a disorder known to exist in dogs (degenerative myelopathy) …. we would like to clarify that FWC has not documented or suspected related cases in pet dogs at this time.”

Other people we spoke to are happy to hear FWC is starting to rule out certain things that might cause the disorder, but they still want to know the answer to the problem affecting wildlife.

“It’s good they ruled out stuff,” Michael Crane said. “But what’s actually causing it?”

FWC said it euthanized a female panther because of the symptoms it was exhibiting. The panther was a mother, and her kittens are being monitored by FWC in hopes of furthering the investigation into the cause.

The disorder has also been seen in other species recently. FWC said it found a wild hog in the area showing similar symptoms to the panthers and bobcats. Researchers continue to investigate if the dog symptoms are related to the symptoms seen in wild animals, but no link has been found.

“It’s comforting to know that they are putting their time and research into it and hopefully find a solution,” Crane said.

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