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Rabies in Cats

Rabies in Cats

Among pets (including cats) rabies is very contagious and deadly. Today, our Mooresville vets talk about the rabies virus in cats including, its symptoms, how common it is, and ways you can prevent it.


Rabies is a highly contagious, but preventable virus. This illness attacks a mammal's central nervous system and spreads when an infected animal bites another mammal. Once an animal has been bitten the disease travels from the site of the bite along the nerves until it gets to the spinal cord and makes its way from there to the brain. Once the rabies virus reaches the brain, the infected animal will start exhibiting symptoms and generally dies in about 7 days.

How Rabies Can Spread

In the U.S. wildlife, including foxes, bats, skunks, and raccoons are the ones most responsible for spreading rabies however, this condition can be seen in any mammal. Typically, rabies is seen in areas with high populations of unvaccinated feral dogs and cats.

Rabies spreads through the saliva of infected mammals and is most often transmitted through bites from infected animals. Rabies can also spread if the saliva of an infected animal comes in contact with an open wound or mucous membranes, such as the gums. The more contact your cat has with wild animals, the higher their risk is of getting infected.

If your cat does happen to have the rabies virus, they can spread it to you as well as the other animals and humans in your home. People can get rabies when the saliva of an infected animal such as your cat comes into contact with broken skin or mucus membrane. While It is possible to become infected with rabies from being scratched, it's very rare and unlikely. If you believe you have come into contact with the rabies virus it's very important that you call your doctor immediately so they can provide you with a rabies vaccine to keep the disease from advancing.

How Common Rabies is in Cats

Thankfully today rabies isn't common among cats largely thanks to the rabies vaccine, which is mandatory for household pets in most states to help prevent the spread of this deadly illness. However, this virus is now more common in cats than it is in dogs with 241 recorded cases of rabies in cats in 2018. Most often cats 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 condition to your cat. If you believe your kitty has been bitten by another animal we recommend calling your vet to make sure your feline friend hasn't been exposed to the rabies virus, even if they are vaccinated.

The Signs & Symptoms Of Rabies in Cats

Typically, the rabies virus in cats has three identifiable stages, we have listed them below including the signs and symptoms that accompany each stage:

Prodromal stage - In this stage, a rabid cat will usually show behavioral changes that differ from its usual personality, if your kitty is normally shy, they may become more outgoing, and vice versa. If you see your cat displaying any behavioral abnormalities after they have obtained an unknown bite, keep them away from any other pets and family members, and call your vet immediately.

Furious stage - This stage is the most dangerous because it makes your pet nervous and even vicious. They might cry out excessively and experience seizures and stop eating. The virus has gotten to the stage where it has begun attacking the nervous system, and it prevents your cat from being able to swallow, leading to the classic symptom of excessive drooling, 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. It generally occurs approximately seven days after symptoms first appear, with death usually happening after about 3 days.

How Long it Takes for Cats to Display Symptoms of Rabies

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

The speed at which the symptoms develop depends on the infection site. A bite that is closer to the spine or brain will develop a lot faster than others. Another contributing factor is the severity of the bite.

How Rabies in Cats is Treated

If your cat starts showing symptoms of rabies, there is unfortunately nothing you or your vet can do to help them. There is no known cure for rabies and once the symptoms start appearing it will only take a few days for your kitty's health to deteriorate.

If your cat has gotten a shot that protects them from rabies as a kitten including all required boosters you will need to 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, generally within 7 to 10 days from when the initial symptoms first arise.

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 might recommend having a sample of your 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.

Contact our Mooresville vets as quickly as possible if you believe your cat was in contact with the rabies virus, and keep your kitty away from other pets and members of your household.

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