Yorkshire Cat Rescue is appealing for donations to help treat 22 cats saved from a life in squalid conditions and all suffering from a highly contagious fungal infection.

The cats were facing a bleak and uncertain future when environmental health officers demanded their immediate eviction from the chaotic home they shared with an elderly owner.

All of the cats and kittens suffered from ringworm – a curable yet highly contagious condition that requires a gruelling 6-week treatment regime in complete isolation.

Yorkshire Cat Rescue was alerted to their plight and stepped in when other local rescues were unable to help. In total, the charity took in 20 unneutered females of which 10 were just kittens and two unneutered males.

“Few animal charities have the facilities to quarantine such a high number of cats, but after years of investing in new, modern pens we were able to provide exactly that,” says Sara Atkinson, founder of Yorkshire Cat Rescue. We have never seen or taken in such a huge number of cats with ringworm before, and everyone knew a mammoth task lay ahead. But the alternative was that they would be put to sleep and we all agreed that we couldn’t let that happen.”

Ringworm is caused by a fungus, which leaves patchy, circular areas of bare skin on the cats. Although not painful, it is highly contagious and can spread to people too.

So to start with, the cats were neutered and shaved while under anaesthetic to make it easier to treat, and then placed in several isolated pens between them from where staff began assessments and treatment.

Several of the kittens were in poor condition – suffering from cat flu, malnourishment and diarrhoea.

Sam Davies, centre manager at Yorkshire Cat Rescue, explains: “These cats have not been well cared for, and several of the kittens had to be admitted into intensive care at our local vet. The weakest little kitten, Hurricane, sadly died and several of the others have had to have their ringworm treatment put on hold while we try and build their strength.”

It quickly became clear that most likely, the majority of the cats were related, as Sam explains: “These cats are most likely a jumble of related family members which, we suspect, all stem from one or two strays that have been taken in but not neutered. That situation is sadly far from unusual and although someone thinks they are performing an act of kindness, they might not be if the first thing they do isn’t to ensure the cats are neutered. It does not bear thinking about how quickly this group could have tripled in size, and more.”

For the last few weeks, staff at Yorkshire Cat Rescue have been working around the clock to care for and treat the cats. It is a gruelling effort, which is taking its toll on resources.

Sam explains: “Anyone working with the cats have to wear overalls and follow a strict regime of decontamination to keep the fungal spores contained and, ultimately, to eliminate the disease. Simply bathing a single cat, which we do regularly, is a two-person job. But these guys are so loving and cuddly which makes it all the more worthwhile. We have decided to name the shaved cats our ‘chickens’ which really suits their distinct temporary looks!”

The charity has already spent thousands of pounds on vet bills and medication for the cats, and is now appealing for donations to help towards the costs.

Sara says: “Caring for these cats is perhaps the biggest single task we have ever taken on, and I’m so impressed at the level of dedication our staff have shown. Although it is hard work, these cats are absolutely worth it.”

The charity is hoping to complete the treatment of most of the cats during June, at which point tests will confirm if they are indeed clear of the infection. If so, they can be put up for adoption. But if not, they will have to undergo a new 6-week treatment program.

Sam says: “The cats are starting to get a little bored in quarantine, but our cat care assistants are doing their best to keep them entertained with games and make-shift toys that can be disposed of afterwards. The upside of the intense treatment regime is that the cats have enjoyed a huge amount of one-to-one attention, which has brought out their most cuddly sides. They are fabulous characters and everyone agrees that we did the right thing in saving their lives.”