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Rabies in Cats

Rabies in Cats

Rabies is a virus that can easily spread between animals and even to people. While there is no cure, vaccinations are available to help protect your pets. In this post, our Rockland County vets talk about cats with rabies, how it is transmitted, and how to tell if a cat has rabies.

What is rabies and how does it affect cats?

While being fatal in nearly all cases, rabies is also preventable with the help of vaccinations. This virus makes its way into the body through an open wound, usually a bite, and attacks the nervous system. The disease spreads through bites from infected animals and travels from the site of the bite along the nerves until it reaches the spinal cord, and works its way from there to the brain. As soon as the rabies virus reaches the brain, the infected animal will start to display symptoms and often dies within 7 days.

How is the rabies virus transmitted between cats and other animals?

In the U.S. wildlife, such as raccoons, bats, foxes, and skunks are the ones most responsible for spreading rabies — but this condition can be found in any mammal. Rabies is a common disease among stray cats and dogs which is another reason why the population of these animals needs to be under control.

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 your cat comes into contact with the saliva of the infected animal the more likely they will be to be infected themselves.

If your cat does happen to have the rabies virus it can spread it to you and the other humans and animals 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. So what are the chances of getting rabies from a cat scratch? While it is possible to get infected with rabies by being scratched it is very rare and unlikely. If you suspect that you have been in contact with the rabies virus you must call your doctor immediately so they can provide you with a rabies vaccine to keep the disease from advancing.

Is rabies a common virus among 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. 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.

What are the signs of rabies in a cat?

Generally, there are three recognizable stages of the rabies virus in cats. The signs of rabies in a cat at each stage are:

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 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 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. 

When do the first signs of cat rabies appear?

When a cat comes into contact with the rabies virus and is infected, the symptoms may not show in the beginning. The usual incubation period is approximately three to eight weeks, but, it can be anywhere from 10 days to as long as a year.

This incubation period can be affected by the location of the wound where the virus entered the body. 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.

Is rabies in cats curable? What are the treatment options?

Protection against rabies is crucial for pets. This is because once a cat is infected with rabies, there is no cure. This virus becomes fatal shortly after the initial symptoms begin to appear. 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. Anyone who comes into contact with an infected animal should contact their primary 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.

In order to protect any other pets and the people in your home, and to ease your cat's pain, you should choose humane euthanasia. 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. Be sure to speak with your vet regularly about vaccinations and if your cat is in need of any booster shots to keep them protected.

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.

If your cat may have been exposed to an animal infected with rabies, please quarantine them and contact our Rockland County vets as quickly as possible.

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At Rockland Veterinary we are passionate about animals and enjoy helping cats and dogs feel well. Contact our vets in Hudson Valley, North Rockland or Pomona today to schedule your furry companion's first appointment!