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Cat Rabies: Signs & Symptoms

Cat Rabies: Signs & Symptoms

Rabies is a potentially life-threatening yet preventable disease that can affect your cat. Today, our Bakersfield vets talk about the dangers of the rabies virus, the symptoms and how it can affect your cat.

The Effects of Cat Rabies

Rabies is a serious disease affecting mammals. This contagious virus can spread easily from one animal to the next affecting the nervous system with a high likelihood of death. 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.

The Spread of Rabies in Cats

While certain animals such as skunks, raccoons and bats are the usual culprits for spreading rabies, it is possible for any mammal to contract and spread the virus. Usually, rabies is found in areas that have high populations of unvaccinated feral cats and dogs. 

Rabies is usually spread through the bite of infected animals. This is due to the virus being spread directly through the saliva. 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 risk of your pet contracting rabies goes up the longer that they are in contact with the infected animal.

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. 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 it's critical that you call your doctor immediately so they can provide you with a rabies vaccine to keep the disease from advancing.

How common is cat rabies?

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 are concerned that your cat has been in contact with or bitten by another animal that may have rabies you should reach out to your vet as soon as possible.

What are the cat rabies symptoms?

When your cat is infected with the rabies virus they will go through three stages.

Prodromal stage - In this stage, a rabid cat will typically exhibit changes in their behavior that differs from their usual personality, if your kitty is usually shy, they could become more outgoing, and vice versa. If you notice that your cat is acting strange after they were in contact with an infected animal you should quarantine them and call your vet immediately.

Furious stage - Once your cat has reached this stage they will become dangerous. 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. It is at this point that your cat will pass away. This often takes place about seven days after symptoms first appear, with death usually happening after about 3 days. 

How to tell if my cat has rabies?

Unfortunately, rabies in cats doesn't have any immediate 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 area of the bite will be the deciding factor in how quickly your cat begins to exhibit symptoms. 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.

What are the treatment options for cats with rabies?

Rabies cannot be treated. This means that once your cat starts to show symptoms there will be nothing that the vet can do for them. It only take s a matter of days usually for the health of your cat to decline.

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.

Do you think that your cat was in contact with an animal infected by rabies? Contact our Bakersfield vets right away.

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