January 31, 2020

Audience: Executive Leadership, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers, Veterinary Team

Organization: San Francisco SPCA
Investigator(s): Jennifer Scarlett, DVM
Grant Amount: $40,000.00
Project Type: Basic Research
Project Status: Research Complete

Project Summary

This San Francisco SPCA project evaluated a novel method, known as fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT), for treating infectious diarrhea in kittens. Shelter cats and dogs, particularly kittens and puppies, are commonly affected by illnesses that cause diarrhea, which can lead to negative outcomes. At the outset, the study faced several challenges in enrolling the intended number of 90 kittens in the study. In 2019, 38 kittens diagnosed with panleukopenia were entered into the study. Based on prior years' data and number of kittens who present with panleukopenia, this was a lower number of available subjects than expected, and not a statistically significant sample size.


The objective of the project was: to evaluate the efficacy of FMT, which has had purported benefits when treating gastrointestinal (GI) and autoimmune diseases in humans, in treating kittens with diarrhea.


Kittens testing positive for panleukopenia were divided into control and test groups with random assignments using a random number generator. In cases where multiple cohoused kittens tested positive at the same time, animals remained cohoused when possible to maintain welfare and socialization. All cohoused animals were assigned the same treatment group. All kittens diagnosed with panleukopenia received supportive care.

Kittens in the FMT group were administered an enema consisting of fecal material from a healthy adult cat daily, for three days. Kittens were evaluated daily by medical staff to assess weight, stool quality and severity of illness. Kittens were tested for panleukopenia daily until they tested negative, passed away or were humanely euthanized based on veterinarian's evaluation of compromised welfare due to the severity of the disease.


  • A total of 38 kittens were entered into the study, with 22 in the control group and 16 in the FMT test group.
  • The average time from diagnosis to resolution, with a negative test result, was 1.82 days for control group, and 2.6 days for FMT group.
  • Normalized stool was reported for 27.3% of control subjects and 44.4% of FMT subjects.
  • Weight gain trend was reported for 54.5% of control subjects and 77.8% of FMT subjects.
  • Overall mortality rate was 40% (38% in control group, 43% in FMT group), higher than that seen in previous years that data was collected. It is not yet determined whether this was due to variation in the strain of disease, or to the protocol used for FMT. The decision was made to stop collecting data in the event the FMT protocol was leading to higher mortality.


While the sample size and results of this study did not rise to the level of statistical significance, the investigation of FMT in introducing healthy GI microbes in the GI tract as a low-cost, adjunct therapy may still be valuable to this and other age groups or disease processes.