Rabies is a very dangerous virus that can also be quite contagious among animals, including cats. Here, our Groton vets explain the impact that the rabies virus can have on cats including its symptoms, its prevention and how common the illness is in our feline friends.
What Is Rabies?
Rabies is a very contagious virus that is, thankfully, preventable. This illness attacks the central nervous system of mammals, including people, dogs and cats. It is spread through the saliva if infected animals (such as through a bite) and can travel from the site of exposure along the nerves until it reached the spinal cord, working its way into the brain.
As soon as the rabies virus reaches the brain, an infected animal will begin to display symptoms and will often die within a week.
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.
Since rabies is spread through the saliva of an infected animal, it is often transmitted through bites from infected creatures. Rabies can also be spread, however, when the saliva from an infected animal comes into contact with an open wound or mucous membrane like the gums. The more contact your feline friend has with wild animals and other cats, the higher their risk of becoming infected.
If your cat contracts the rabies virus, it can spread the illness to you and other animals and people in your home. People, like animals, can get infected when an animal's saliva comes into contact with their mucus membrane or broken skin.
t 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 Rabies in Cats?
Thankfully, these days rabies isn't very common among cats because of the prevalence of the rabies vaccine. This cat shot is mandatory for household pets in most states to help prevent the spread of this deadly virus. However, rabies is more common in cats than it is in dogs.
Most often, cats will get rabies after being bitten by a wild animal. Even if your cat doesn't venture outside, they may be at risk since infected mice may enter into your home and infect your kitty. If you believe that your cat has been bitten by a wild animal, we recommend that you call your vet as soon as possible to make sure your cat hasn't been exposed to rabies - even if they are already 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 stages including the signs and symptoms that accompany each stage:
Prodromal stage - In this stage of the rabies virus, a rabid cat will generally exhibit changes in their behavior that differs from their usual personality. If your cat is usually sky, they may become more outgoing. If you notice any behavioral abnormalities in your cat after they obtain a bite from an unknown source, keep them away from other pets and family members and call a veterinarian as soon as possible.
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 signs or symptoms at first. The usual incubation period for rabies is between 3 and 8 weeks, but can be as short at 10 days or as long as 1 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 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 cat has received their shots as a kitten to protect them from rabies, including all of their required boosters, provide your veterinarian with proof of vaccination. if anyone has come into contact with your pet's saliva or was bitten (including you), let them know to contact a doctor as soon as possible 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.
To ease your unvaccinated pet's suffering, they should be humanely euthanized in order to protect other people and pets in your home. If your cat suddenly dies from what your suspect to be rabies, a vet may recommend that you have a sample from their brain examined. Direct testing on the brain is the only way to definitively diagnose rabies.
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.