Rabies in Cats

Rabies is a highly contagious and deadly virus that infects mammals, including domestic pets. Here, our Madison vets discuss the signs, symptoms, and prevention methods of rabies in cats.

What Is Rabies?

Rabies is a highly contagious virus that can, thankfully, be avoided. When a mammal is infected by rabies, the virus attacks the central nervous system.

The disease is transmitted through bites from infected animals, and it travels along nerves from the bite site to the spinal cord, where it then travels to the brain. The infected animal will begin to show symptoms as soon as the rabies virus reaches the brain, and will usually die within 7 days.

How Does Rabies Spread?

Wildlife such as raccoons, bats, foxes, and skunks are the most common carriers of rabies in the United States, but the disease can affect any mammal. Rabies is most commonly found in areas with large populations of unvaccinated feral cats and dogs.

Rabies is spread by infected mammals' saliva and is most commonly transmitted through bites from infected animals. If an infected animal's saliva comes into contact with an open wound or mucous membranes, such as the gums, rabies can spread. The more wild animal contact your cat has, the more likely it is to become infected.

How Common is Rabies in Cats?

Thankfully, rabies is no longer prevalent among cats, thanks to the rabies vaccine, which is required for all household pets in most states to help prevent the spread of this deadly disease. However, with 241 rabies cases reported in cats in 2018, this virus is now more common in cats than in dogs. 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 disease to your cat. Even if your cat has been vaccinated, if you believe your cat has been bitten by another animal, you should contact your veterinarian to ensure your feline friend has not been exposed to the rabies virus.

What Are The Signs & Symptoms Of Cat Rabies?

There are three general stages to the development of rabies in cats:

Prodromal stage - In this stage, a rabid cat's behavior will typically differ from its usual personality; for example, if your cat is normally shy, it may become more outgoing, and vice versa. If your cat exhibits any unusual behavior after receiving an unknown bite, keep them away from other pets and family members and contact your veterinarian right away.

Furious stage - This is the most dangerous stage because it causes your pet to become nervous and even aggressive. They may scream uncontrollably, have seizures, and stop eating. The virus has progressed to the point where it is attacking your cat's nervous system, preventing him from swallowing, resulting in the classic symptom of excessive drooling, also known as "foaming at the mouth."

Paralytic stage - A rabid cat will enter a coma and be unable to breathe at this point. Unfortunately, this is the stage at which most pets die. This usually occurs seven days after the onset of symptoms, with death usually occurring three days later.

How Long Will It Take for My Cat to Show Symptoms of Rabies?

Your cat will not show any immediate signs or symptoms if it has been exposed to the rabies virus. The incubation period is usually three to eight weeks long, but it can last anywhere from ten days to a year.

The time it takes for symptoms to appear is entirely dependent on the infection site. A bite that is closer to the spine or brain develops much faster than others, and the severity of the bite also influences how quickly it develops.

How is Rabies Treated in Cats?

If your cat develops rabies symptoms, there is nothing you or your veterinarian can do to help them. There is no known cure for rabies, and once symptoms appear, the patient's health will quickly deteriorate.

Provide proof of vaccination to your veterinarian if your kitten has received the rabies vaccine, 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. Rabies is always fatal in unvaccinated animals, and it usually kills them within 7 to 10 days of the first symptoms appearing.

If your cat has been diagnosed with rabies, you must notify your local health department. Unvaccinated pets must be quarantined for up to six months after being bitten or exposed to a known rabid animal, or according to local and state regulations.

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 believe your cat has come into contact with the rabies virus, keep them away from your other pets and family members and contact our Madison vets immediately.