Rabies is a highly contagious virus that poses a serious health threat to people, pets and other mammals. Today, our Rochester vets explain the symptoms of rabies and why it is essential to vaccinate your feline friend against this deadly disease.

The Deadly Rabies Virus

Rabies is a virus that attacks the central nervous system of mammals including cats, dogs, people and other mammals. The disease most often gets into the system through the bite of an infected animal.

When the virus enters the body, it travels from the site of the bite along the nerves until it reaches 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.

Which animals have rabies?

Generally, rabies is spread by wildlife such as raccoons, bats, foxes, and skunks— but this condition can be contracted and spread by any mammal. Rabies is most often seen in neighborhoods that have large populations of unvaccinated stray cats and dogs. 

Rabies virus spreads through contact with infected mammals' saliva and is most commonly transmitted through bites from infected animals. Rabies can also spread if an infected animal's saliva comes into contact with an open wound or mucous membranes, such as the gums. The more your cat comes into contact with wild animals, the more likely they are to become infected. 

If your cat contracts the rabies virus it can then be easily spread to you and the other people or pets 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 mucous 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 crucial that you call your doctor right away so they can provide you with a rabies vaccine to keep the disease from advancing.

Rates of Rabies Cases in Cats

It is mandatory in most states for cats and dogs over the age of 6 months to receive regularly scheduled rabies vaccines. Thanks largely to the success of this vaccine program, cases of rabies in cats are relatively rare.

Nonetheless, this virus is now more common in cats than 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 cat has been bitten by another animal, we recommend contacting your veterinarian to ensure your feline friend has not been exposed to the rabies virus, even if they are vaccinated.

Signs That Your Cat May Have Rabies

A cat with rabies will begin to display signs in the following 3 stages of progression:

Prodromal stage - In this stage, a rabid cat will typically exhibit behaviors that are unusual compared to their usual personality. For example, 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 is the most dangerous stage because it causes your pet to become nervous and even aggressive. At this stage, cat rabies symptoms include excessive crying, seizures, and a loss of appetite. The virus has progressed to the point where it is attacking your cat's nervous system, preventing him from swallowing and causing 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. 

Length of Time From Infection to Start of Symptoms

If your cat has been exposed to the rabies virus, it will not show any symptoms right away. The typical incubation period is three to eight weeks, but it can last anywhere from 10 days to 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.

Treatment for Rabies In Cats

Sadly, if your cat contracts rabies there is 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.

Provide proof of vaccination to your veterinarian if your pet has had 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 you), tell them to see a doctor right away. 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.

Is it time for your cat's rabies vaccination? Contact our Rochester vets today to book a vaccine appointment for your feline family member.