Rabies is a deadly virus that is very contagious for pets including cats. In this post, our Ocala veterinarians discuss the impact the rabies virus can have on cats including how common it is, its symptoms, and how it can be prevented.
What Is Rabies?
Rabies is a highly contagious virus that, thankfully, can be avoided. This disease affects mammals' central nervous systems. The disease spreads through bites from infected animals and travels along the nerves from the site of the bite to the spinal cord and then to the brain. When the rabies virus enters the brain, the infected animal begins to exhibit symptoms and usually dies within 7 days.
How Does Rabies Spread?
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. Usually, rabies is found in areas that have high populations of unvaccinated feral cats and dogs.
Rabies spreads through infected mammals' saliva and is most commonly transmitted through bites from infected animals. Rabies can also be transmitted when an infected animal's saliva comes into contact with an open wound or mucous membranes, such as the gums. The more contact your cat has with wild animals, the more likely it is to become infected.
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.
What are the chances of getting rabies from a cat scratch?
It is possible to get infected with rabies by being scratched but 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.
How Common is Rabies in Cats?
Thankfully, rabies is no longer common in cats, thanks in large part to the rabies vaccine, which is required 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 in dogs, with 241 cases of rabies in cats reported in 2018. Cats usually get rabies after being bitten by a wild animal; however, even if you have an indoor cat, it is still at risk for rabies because infected animals like mice can enter your home and spread the disease to your cat. if you believe your kitty has been bitten by another animal we recommend calling your veterinarian to make sure your feline friend hasn't been exposed to the rabies virus, even if they are vaccinated.
What Are The Signs & Symptoms Of Cat Rabies?
Generally, there are three recognizable stages of the rabies virus in cats, below we have listed the signs and symptoms so you know how to tell if a cat has rabies:
Prodromal stage - A rabid cat will typically exhibit changes in behavior that differ from its usual personality at this stage; for example, if your kitty is normally shy, it may become more outgoing, and vice versa. If you notice any behavioral changes in your cat after an unknown bite, keep them away from other pets and family members and contact your veterinarian right away.
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. 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.
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.
How is a cat with rabies treated?
If your cat starts displaying symptoms of rabies, there is unfortunately nothing you or your veterinarian 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.
Provide proof of vaccination to your veterinarian if your pet has received the kitten shots that protect them from rabies, including all required boosters. If anyone comes into contact with their saliva or is bitten by your pet (including yourself), tell them to see a doctor right away. Unfortunately, rabies is always fatal in unvaccinated animals, usually within 7 to 10 days of the onset of symptoms.
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.