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UPDATE 7/17:

A fourth big cat at In-Sync Exotics Wildlife Rescue and Education Center in Wylie a white tiger named Harley died Wednesday of distemper. The sanctuary's Facebook page reported the tiger had been sick for weeks, and they had decided to put him down.

About 45 minutes before a vet was scheduled to arrive, Harley died peacefully.

A bake sale to raise funds for In-Sync will be held Thursday, July 18, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Preimier Place Office Building at 5910 North Central Expressway in Dallas.


EARLIER:

WYLIE A North Texas animal sanctuary has reported an outbreak of canine distemper that has now taken the lives of three big cats.

Dead are Abrams and Apollo, two 12-year-old Bengal tigers; and an African lioness called Layla who would have been 18 years old on Wednesday.

Officials with In-Sync Exotics Wildlife Rescue and Education Center in Wylie say about 20 other big cats have shown symptoms, but the exact number suffering from distemper is not known because all of the blood test results have not come back.

Details on the group's website indicate the ailments range from runny noses to seizures.

We've got a cat now that is down for two weeks," said Justin Marshall with In-Sync Exotics. "He just sleeps."

Several of the big cats don't seem to want to eat, which is making it difficult for volunteers to get them to take medicine.

They get fed up with us trying to do it, but we're trying to help them," Marshall said. "Sometimes it's more frustrating for them than it is us."

With the loss of two of the cats, every vitamin and supplement is a full-on fight to stay healthy.

Wildlife officials are working with veterinarians to deal with the outbreak.

The vitamins they get will help boost their immune system to fight off the distemper, said In-Sync intern Ania Cudzewicz.

Center authorities say the cats get annual vacations for feline distemper but the animals are also susceptible to a canine branch of the disease. Experts believe the canine distemper was transmitted by wild raccoons.

There's just not enough research behind this for these animals, so we don't know the right direction to take, compared to the wrong direction," Marshall said. "It's a black-and-white situation with a lot of gray."

The animals that are really sick are grouped together under 24-hour supervision. Volunteers come at night to help; struggling to understand how animals with such strength could be brought down this fast.

To be updated or to help the animals, go to In-Sync s Facebook page or web site.

E-mail sslater@wfaa.com

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