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Rabies in Cats

Rabies is a very serious and deadly disease that can affect people, pets, and other animals. In this post, our Johns Creek vets discuss the causes, symptoms, and prevention of rabies in cats.

A Serious Threat to Pets & People

Rabies is an extremely contagious virus that, thankfully, is preventable. This illness affects the central nervous system of mammals and spreads through bites from infected animals, traveling from the site of the bite along the nerves until it reaches the spinal cord. It then works its way from there to the victim's brain. As soon as the rabies virus reaches the brain, the infected animal will start to display symptoms and will likely die within 7 days.

The Spread of Rabies

Although this condition can be contracted and spread by any mammal, in most cases, rabies is spread by wildlife such as raccoons, bats, foxes, and skunks. Neighborhoods that have large populations of unvaccinated stray cats and dogs are likely to have a higher number of rabies instances. 

Rabies spreads through the saliva of infected mammals and is most often transmitted through bites from infected animals. 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 often your cat is in close contact with wild animals, the higher the risk they have of contracting the disease.

What are the chances of getting rabies from a cat scratch?

A cat with rabies is capable of passing the disease to humans and other pets in the house. People can get rabies when the saliva of an infected animal such as your cat comes into contact with broken skin or mucus membrane. It is possible to get infected with rabies by being scratched, but this is quite unlikely.

Since rabies is transmitted through saliva, the chances of contracting rabies from a cat scratch are low. The only chance that it might be spread through a scratch is when scratching is accompanied by hissing and biting, which can aerosolize and transmit the virus to another individual.

If you suspect that you have been in contact with the rabies virus, you must call your doctor immediately so they can provide you with a rabies vaccine to prevent the disease from progressing.

Cat Rabies Symptoms

Many people are curious about the signs of rabies in cats. Most people associate rabies with a mouth full of foam and drool, but this isn't necessarily the case and there can be more to it. If you're not sure how to tell if a cat has rabies, the disease will present itself in 3 distinct phases as it progresses. Cat rabies symptoms will progress as follows:

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 stage is the most dangerous because it makes your pet nervous and even vicious. Cat rabies symptoms at this stage include crying out excessively, seizures, and loss of appetite. 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 does rabies take to show symptoms in cats?

If your cat has been exposed to the rabies virus, they probably won't show any signs or symptoms for a few weeks. The typical incubation period is approximately three to eight weeks, but, it can be anywhere from 10 days up to a year.

The rate at which symptoms first appear is solely dependent on the infection site and how severe the bite is. A bite that is closer to the spine or brain will develop much faster than others.

Treatment for Rabies In Cats

If your cat contracts the rabies virus, there is nothing you or your vet can do to help them at that point. There is no known cure for rabies and after symptoms start showing, their health will significantly deteriorate within a few days.

If your pet has had vaccinations that protect them from rabies, including all required boosters, provide proof of vaccination to your veterinarian as there may be a way for them to help. 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 your local and state regulations. A vaccinated animal that has bitten or scratched a human, should be quarantined and monitored for 10 days.

Your pet should be humanely euthanized to minimize their suffering and to protect humans and pets that are in their environment. If your cat dies suddenly of what you suspect to be rabies, the only way to confirm that rabies was the cause is to examine a sample of the cat's brain

The best protection against rabies in cats is to provide them with the appropriate vaccinations and booster shots 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 your cat due for a rabies vaccination or booster? Contact our Johns Creek vets to book an appointment and have your cat protected from this deadly virus.

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