FWC names neurological disorder seen in SWFL panthers

Reporter: Taylor Smith Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:

We first reported about a neurological disease observed in Florida panthers and bobcats in August, after wildcats and pet dogs in Collier County started showing concerning symptoms.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission stepped in to undertake the investigation of the cause and have named the illness “feline leukomyelopathy,” which is microscopic changes in the brain and spine.

“I don’t know if the name has any implications for narrowing down what may be causing it,” said Meredith Budd, the Southwest Florida field representative of the Florida Wildlife Federation. “I don’t believe it has.”

FWC says the disorder observed in the panthers and bobcats is not impacting dogs.

We spoke to a pet owner who lost his dog to something similar to what the wildcats are experiencing. He still believes the research being done could lead to answers for dogs too.

“We still have some of our dog’s things in the house because we have not let go completely, and we are still hoping for the answers,” said Rick Virdinlia in Naples.

Virdinlia’s dog, Harley, walked like the panthers did before she died.

“It’s a coincidence then that so many canines are experiencing the exact same symptoms?” Virdinlia said.

When Virdinlia heard that FWC released new information about the disease, it made him happy.

“I like the answer,” he said. But it didn’t help he and his family look to find closure after Harley died.

“Unfortunately, I think that it’s very tunnel vision,” Virdinlia said. “I think they are focused on their cats, understandably.”

FWC investigators say they still are not sure precisely what is causing this in the panthers. It could be different toxins, infectious disease or nutritional deficiencies.

Budd says, even though there is a lot to learn, there is good news.

“As I have been updated, there have not been any more sightings, which is good news in this case,” Budd said. “No news is good news.”

Biologists gave the issue a name to make it easier to address what is happening in the wildcats.

Florida Wildlife Federation said they are working to put more cameras in Lee County and Collier County to keep more widespread surveillance on the wildcats.

Virdinlia said it’s a good start.

“If they find the answers for felines, and they can get it narrowed to one, well, then, someone else can step up and say, ‘Now, let’s look at the canines,'” Virdinlia said.

Copyright ©2023 Fort Myers Broadcasting. All rights reserved.

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written consent.