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The Reality of Rabies in Cats

Rabies is a deadly virus that is very contagious among animals, but especially contagious among cats. Today, our Pittsboro vets discuss the impact the rabies virus can have on cats, including how common it is, the symptoms, and how it is prevented.

What Is Rabies?

Rabies is an extremely contagious, but preventable virus. The disease spreads through bites from infected animals and travels from the site of the bite along the nervous system 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 usually dies within a week.

How Does Rabies Spread?

In the U.S., wildlife such as raccoons, bats, foxes, and skunks are 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. The more contact your cat has with wild animals, the higher the risk is of becoming 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. 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 Rabies in Cats?

Thankfully, rabies isn't common among cats today largely thanks to the rabies vaccine, which is mandatory for household pets in most states. However, this virus is now more common in cats than it is in dogs, with 241 recorded cases of rabies in cats in 2018. 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 & Symptoms Of Cat Rabies?

Generally, there are three recognizable stages of the rabies virus in cats:

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 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. During this stage, the rabies virus is preventing 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 three 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. Typically, the incubation period is approximately three to eight weeks.

The speed at which symptoms appear depends entirely on the infection site and the severity. A bite that is closer to the spine or brain will develop much faster than others.

How is Rabies Treated in Cats?

If your cat starts displaying symptoms of rabies, there is unfortunately nothing you or your vet 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.

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.

If you are concerned that your cat might have been bitten by a rabid animal, isolate them from all other pets and family members and contact our Pittsboro vets right away.

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Our vets at Hope Crossing Animal Hospital are now accepting new patients! Our talented veterinary team is passionate about caring for the pets of Pittsboro. Contact us today to book your first appointment. 

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