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Rabies in Cats

Rabies in Cats

Vaccinations can help protect your cat from rabies - one of the deadliest diseases. In this post, our Queens vets share some important facts about rabies in cats, including symptoms and some unfortunate truths behind this condition. 

What is the rabies virus?

The rabies virus is known to be fatal. However, there are ways to help prevent it. This illness attacks the central nervous system in mammals and spreads through bites from infected animals. It travels from the site of the bite along the nerves before reaching the spinal cord and working its way from there to the brain. As soon as the rabies virus reaches the brain, symptoms will begin to appear in the infected animal. Death usually occurs within seven days.

How do cats contract rabies?

In the United States, the most common culprits for spreading rabies are bats, raccoons, foxes, and skunks. Unvaccinated feral domestic animals such as cats and dogs also have higher instances of rabies.

This disease spreads through infected mammals’ saliva and is most often transmitted through bites from infected animals. Rabies can also spread if the saliva of an infected animal comes into contact with an open wound or mucous membranes, such as the gums. The more your cat interacts with wild animals, the higher its risk of becoming infected.

If your cat does happen to contract the rabies virus, it can spread it to you and other humans and animals living in your home. People can get rabies when an infected animal’s saliva (from a cat, for example) comes into contact with broken skin or a mucous membrane. Though it is possible to contract a rabies infection by being scratched, this is very rare and unlikely. If you suspect you have been in contact with the rabies virus, it’s critical to call your doctor immediately so they can administer a rabies vaccine to keep the disease from advancing.

Is rabies a common disease in cats?

Fortunately, rabies isn’t as common among cats any more thanks to the rabies vaccine, which is mandatory for household pets in most states to help prevent this deadly disease from spreading.

However, this virus is now more common in cats than it is in dogs, with more than 250 cats being reported rapid each year.

Cats most often get rabies after being bitten by a wild animal. Even if you have an indoor cat, they are still at risk for rabies because infected animals such as mice can enter your home and spread the illness to your cat. If you believe your kitty has been bitten by another animal, contact your vet to ensure your feline companion hasn’t been exposed to the rabies virus, even if they are vaccinated.

What signs and symptoms should I look for if I’m worried about rabies?

There are typically three recognizable stages of the rabies virus in cats. Here are the stages, including signs and symptoms that accompany each stage.

Prodromal stage: During this stage, a rabid cat’s behavior will typically change from their usual behavior and personality. If your kitty is generally shy, they may become more outgoing, and vice versa. If you notice any behavioral abnormalities in your cat after an unknown or unfamiliar animal has bitten them, keep them away from any other pets and family members and call your vet right away.

Furious stage - The second stage is the most dangerous since it makes your pet nervous and potentially even vicious. They may cry out excessively, experience seizures, and stop eating. The virus has progressed to the stage where it’s attacking the nervous system and prevents your act from being able to swallow. This leads to the classic symptom of excessive drooling, also known as “foaming at the mouth”.

Paralytic stage - This is the final stage in which a rabid cat will go into a coma, and won't be able to breathe. Unfortunately, this is the stage where pets usually pass away. This often takes place about seven days after symptoms first appear, with death usually happening after about 3 days.

How long does it typically take for rabies symptoms to appear?

If your cat has been exposed to the rabies virus, it won't show any immediate signs or symptoms. The usual incubation period is approximately three to eight weeks, but, it can be anywhere from 10 days to as long as a year.

The speed at which symptoms appear depends entirely on the infection site. A bite that is closer to the spine or brain will develop much faster than others and it also depends on the severity of the bite.

Are there any treatment options for rabies in cats?

If your cat starts displaying symptoms of rabies, there is unfortunately nothing you or your vet can do to help them. There is no known cure for rabies and after symptoms start appearing, their health will deteriorate within a few days.

If your pet has had the kitten shots that protect them from rabies, including all required boosters, provide proof of vaccination to your veterinarian. If anyone came into contact with their saliva or was bitten by your pet (yourself included), advise them to contact a physician immediately for treatment. Unfortunately, rabies is always fatal for unvaccinated animals, usually occurring within 7 to 10 days from when the initial symptoms start.

If your cat is diagnosed with rabies you will have to report the case to your local health department. An unvaccinated pet that is bitten or exposed to a known rabid animal must be quarantined for up to six months, or according to local and state regulations. A vaccinated animal that has bitten or scratched a human, conversely, should be quarantined and monitored for 10 days.

Your pet should be humanely euthanized to ease their suffering and to protect the other people and pets in your home. If your cat dies suddenly of what you suspect to be rabies, your vet may recommend having a sample from the cat’s brain examined. Direct testing of the brain is the only way to diagnose rabies for sure.

The best protection against rabies in cats is to provide them with the appropriate vaccinations that help prevent the disease. Talk to your vet about scheduling an appointment to make sure your pet is up to date with their rabies shots and other vaccinations.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your cat due for their rabies vaccination? Contact our veterinary team in Queens to book an appointment for an exam and cleaning. We can also offer treatment options and advice.

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