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Rabies in Cats: Signs & Symptoms

Rabies is a contagious virus that is easily spread and typically fatal for animals that contract it. Luckily, there is a vaccination that can help protect your pet. Today, our Little Rock vets share the dangers of rabies in cats, the symptoms to watch for, and how you can help protect your feline friend.

Rabies in Cats: How serious is this virus?

Cats are susceptible to the highly contagious, potentially fatal, but preventable disease known as rabies. The mammalian central nervous system is affected by this disease. The illness is spread by animal bites, and it moves from the bite site along nerves until it reaches the spinal cord, where it then moves on to the brain. Once the virus has infected the brain, your cat will start to exhibit symptoms and most likely pass away within 7 days.

How is rabies transmitted between cats and other animals?

In the U.S. wildlife, such as raccoons, bats, foxes, and skunks are the ones most responsible for spreading rabies but any animal can contract and carry this virus. most cases of rabies are seen in areas that have a high number of feral cats and dogs.

Rabies is transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal and while it most commonly occurs during animal bites, it can be spread through any contact with infected saliva. 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 the risk of becoming infected. 

Sadly, rabies can spread to human members of your family as well as animals, so it is possible for it to affect both. When an infected animal's saliva, such as your cat, comes into contact with a person's broken skin or mucous membranes, the person may contract rabies. Although extremely unlikely, it is possible to contract rabies from being scratched. To help stop the rabies virus from spreading through your body if you may have come into contact with an infected animal, talk to your doctor about getting the rabies vaccine.

Is rabies a common virus among cats?

Most states require rabies vaccinations as part of their vaccination requirements, which has helped to keep the virus largely under control. Precautions should always be taken because, despite the current lower risk, it is still possible. Even if your cat lives inside, it is still at risk for contracting rabies because infected rodents like mice can get inside your house and spread the disease to your cat. Cats typically contract rabies after being bitten by a wild animal. Even if your cat is vaccinated, it is still advisable to call your veterinarian if you think it was bitten by another animal. This will ensure that your cat has not been exposed to the rabies virus.

How long does rabies take to show symptoms in cats?

The symptoms of rabies in cats typically fall in with the three stages that an animal goes through as they are infected. These stages are:

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 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. 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. 

When do the initial symptoms of rabies appear?

If your cat has been infected with the rabies virus, it will most likely not show any symptoms in the beginning. 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.

Can rabies in cats be treated or cured?

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for rabies at this time and once the symptoms begin to appear your cat likely only has a few days left to live.

If your cat has been bitten by a rabid animal and is up to date on their rabies vaccinations, you must provide the vaccination documentation to your veterinarian. 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.

You are required to report your cat's rabies to the health department as soon as it is confirmed. 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.

In order to protect your family and other pets as well as prevent unnecessary suffering of your cat you should have your feline friend euthanized once they have been diagnosed. 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. Your vet will be able to let you know if your cat is in need of any routine 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 your cat has come into contact with the saliva of a wild or rabid animal you should isolate them and contact our Little Rock vets right away.

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