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Rabies in Cats

Cats can become infected with Rabies since it is a contagious virus among pets. In this article, our San Gabriel vets discuss the rabies virus, and pet vaccinations, along with the signs and symptoms of this deadly virus.

What is rabies?

Rabies is an extremely contagious yet preventable virus. This illness attacks the central nervous system of mammals. The disease spreads through bites from infected animals. The disease travels from the bite along the nerves until it reaches the spinal cord, and works its way from there to the brain. Once the rabies virus reaches the brain, the infected animal will start to display symptoms of rabies and often die within seven days.

How do rabies spread?

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 the risk of becoming infected. 

Usually, rabies is found in areas highly populated by unvaccinated feral cats and dogs. Although this condition can be found in any mammal, raccoons, bats, foxes, and skunks are responsible for spreading rabies. 

If your cat does happen to have the rabies virus it can spread it to you and the other humans living 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. It is possible to get infected with rabies by being scratched but it is unlikely. If you suspect that you have been in contact with an animal that has contracted the rabies virus, you must call your doctor immediately so they can provide you with a rabies vaccine to keep the disease from advancing.

How common is rabies in cats?

Thankfully rabies isn't as common among cats today, largely thanks to the rabies vaccine. It is mandatory for household pets in most states to receive the rabies vaccine to help prevent the spread of this deadly illness. However, this virus is now more common in cats than in dogs with 241 recorded cases of cats with rabies 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 another animal has bitten your kitty we recommend calling your vet to check that your feline friend hasn't been exposed to the rabies virus, even if they are vaccinated.

What are the signs & symptoms of cat rabies?

There are often three recognizable stages of the rabies virus in cats, we have listed the stages including the signs and symptoms that accompany each stage:

Prodromal stage - In this stage, a rabid cat will typically exhibit changes in their behavior that differ from their usual personality. If your kitty is usually shy, they could become more outgoing, and vice versa. If you see any behavioral abnormalities in your cat after they have obtained an unknown bite, keep them away from 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 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. This often takes place about seven days after symptoms first appear, with death usually happening after about 3 days. 

How long will it take for my cat to show symptoms of rabies?

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.

Depending on the infection site symptoms may appear faster than others. A bite closer to the spine or brain will develop much faster than others. It also depends on the severity of the bite.

How is rabies treated in cats?

Once your cat starts displaying symptoms of rabies, there is unfortunately nothing that can be done to help them as there are no cat vaccinations for rabies. After symptoms appear, the health of a pet infected with rabies 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, advise them to contact a physician immediately for treatment. Unfortunately, rabies is always fatal for unvaccinated animals, usually occurring within seven to 10 days from when the initial symptoms start.

If your cat is diagnosed with rabies you should 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.

Contact our San Gabriel vets if your cat is showing signs and symptoms of rabies. Our pet vaccination clinic offers the resources to help you and your pet.

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