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Signs & Symptoms of Rabies In Cats

Signs & Symptoms of Rabies In Cats

Rabies is an extremely contagious virus that is fatal in cats and other pets. Here, our vets in Houston County explain how rabies spreads in cats, the stages and symptoms of the virus, and how you can prevent it.

Rabies in Cats

While rabies is a highly contagious virus that affects the central nervous system of mammals, it can be prevented.

The disease is transmitted through bites of infected animals and works its way from the site of the bite and along the nerves until it gets to the animal's spinal cord, and from there travels to the brain. Once the rabies virus gets to the brain, the infected animal will begin exhibiting symptoms and generally passes away within 7 days.

How Rabies Spreads Among Cats

In the US, the animals most responsible for spreading rabies are bats, raccoons, and foxes— although, this virus can be seen in any mammal. Generally, rabies is seen in areas that have high populations of feral dogs and cats that are unvaccinated.

Rabies is transmitted through the saliva of infected mammals and animals usually become infected after being bitten by animals that have the virus. 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 more contact your cat has with wild animals, the higher their risk is of becoming infected.

If your cat becomes infected with rabies they can transmit it to you as well as the other pets and people residing in your home. People can contract rabies when an infected animal's saliva ( such as your cat) comes into contact with mucus membrane or broken skin. There is a chance that you can get rabies after being scratched but it is highly unlikely and very rare. 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 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 think your feline friend may have been bitten by an animal we highly suggest calling your vet to be sure your cat hasn't been in contact with the rabies virus (even if they are vaccinated).

How to Tell if Your Cat Has Rabies

The rabies virus generally has three identifiable stages in cats, we have listed them here, including the signs and symptoms that are associated with each stage:

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 your cat starts exhibiting any unusual behaviors after getting an unknown bite, separate them from the other animals and members of your household and call your veterinarian straight away. 

Furious stage - This is the most dangerous stage because it makes your cat 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 last stage, where rabid cats will go into a coma, and won't be able to breathe. Sadly, this is when infected animals usually pass away. This generally occurs approximately seven days after the symptoms first appear, with death usually happening after about 3 days.

How Long it Takes Cats to Show Rabies Symptoms

When cats are first exposed to the rabies virus they usually won't display any immediate symptoms. The typical incubation period is usually about three to eight weeks, however, it could be anywhere from as little as ten days to as long as one 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.

Treating Rabies in Cats

Unfortunately, as soon as your cat starts exhibiting symptoms, you or your vet can't do anything to help them. There aren't any known cures for rabies and once pets start showing symptoms, their health will deteriorate within a few days.

If your cat has gotten the rabies shots, including all required boosters, show your veterinarian the proof of vaccination. If anyone came into contact with your cat's saliva or has been bitten by your kitty (yourself included), tell them to call a physician immediately to get treatment. Sadly, rabies is always fatal for animals that are not vaccinated, with death usually occurring about 7 to 10 days after they start exhibiting the initial symptoms.

If your cat is diagnosed with rabies you will have to report the case to your local health department. An unvaccinated pet that has been 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 way you can protect your cat from rabies is to make sure they get the appropriate vaccinations that help prevent the virus. Reach out to your veterinarian and ask them about scheduling an appointment to make sure your furry friend 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 suspect your cat has been exposed to the rabies virus keep them separated from other pets and people and contact our Houston County vets immediately.

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Smith Animal Hospital is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Houston County companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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