Rabies is a lethal virus that typically spreads among mammals through the bite of an infected animal. In this blog post, our vets in Seattle discuss the dangers of rabies in cats, how it spreads, and the significance of safeguarding your feline friend against this fatal virus through vaccinations.

Cat Rabies: What is it?

Although rabies is preventable, cats who do not receive the vaccine are at risk of succumbing to this deadly infection. Rabies attacks the nervous system and spreads through bites from infected animals. Once the virus enters the body, it travels along the nerves from the site of the bite to the spinal cord and ultimately reaches the brain. Symptoms usually appear after the virus reaches the brain, and unfortunately, the animal will likely die within a week of showing symptoms.

How Does Rabies Spread?

While rabies can be spread through all mammals, skunks, foxes, and bats are the leading carriers within the U.S. Usually, rabies is found in areas with high populations of unvaccinated feral cats and dogs. 

The rabies virus is present in the slava of an infected animal, which makes bites the most common method of transmission. 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. 

If your cat gets infected with rabies, it can spread the disease to other people and animals in your home or those they contact. People can also get rabies if an infected animal's saliva comes into contact with their broken skin or mucus membrane. Although the risk is low, getting rabies from scratching a cat is still possible. If you suspect you have been exposed to the rabies virus, it's important to contact your doctor immediately so they can provide you with a rabies vaccine to prevent the disease from progressing.

How Common is Rabies in Cats?

The mandatory rabies vaccine has successfully decreased the reported rabies cases in household pets. However, there is still much more that can be done to prevent the spread of this virus. In recent years, there have been more cases of rabies in cats than in dogs, with 241 recorded cases in cats in 2018.

Usually, cats contract rabies after being bitten by a wild animal. Even indoor cats are at risk, as infected animals such as mice can enter your home and transmit the virus to your cat. If you suspect another animal has bitten your cat, we recommend calling your vet to ensure your furry friend has not been exposed to the rabies virus, even if they have been vaccinated.

The Cat Rabies Symptoms

There are three primary stages of rabies infection in cats, each with accompanying signs and symptoms. 

Prodromal stage - During the rabies infection stage, a cat may display changes in their behavior that are different from their usual personality. For instance, if your cat is usually shy, they could become more outgoing, and vice versa. If you notice any abnormal behavior in your cat after an unknown animal has bitten them, it is important to keep them away from other pets and family members and immediately contact your veterinarian for assistance.

Furious stage - During the advanced stages of the virus, your pet might become nervous and even aggressive. They may cry out excessively, experience seizures, and stop eating. The virus attacks the nervous system, leading to difficulty swallowing. This can cause excessive drooling, known as "foaming at the mouth."

Paralytic stage - During the final stage of rabies in cats, the animal may go into a coma and have difficulty breathing. Sadly, this is often the stage where pets pass away. This stage typically occurs about one week after the first symptoms appear, with death usually occurring within three days.

When will symptoms of rabies in cats begin to appear?

Cats infected with rabies do not show symptoms immediately. The incubation period usually lasts from three to eight weeks, but it can range from 10 days to one year.

The speed at which symptoms appear depends on the location of the infection site.

Bites closer to the spine or brain may develop symptoms much faster, and the severity of the bite also plays a role in symptom development.

Treating Rabies in Cats

It is crucial to ensure that your cat is up to date with their rabies vaccination, as once symptoms appear, there is little time left for your feline friend. Unfortunately, there is no known cure for rabies, and their health will deteriorate within a few days after symptoms start appearing.

If anyone comes into contact with their saliva or is bitten by your pet (including yourself), advise them to seek medical treatment immediately. Rabies is always fatal for unvaccinated animals, usually within 7 to 10 days from when the initial symptoms start.

If your cat is diagnosed with rabies, it is important to report the case to your local health department. If your pet is unvaccinated and gets bitten or exposed to a known rabid animal, it must be quarantined for up to six months, as per local and state regulations. On the other hand, if you have a vaccinated animal that has bitten or scratched a human, it should be quarantined and monitored for ten days.

Euthanizing your cat if it is suffering humanely is recommended, and protecting other people and pets in your home is recommended. In case of sudden death of your cat, and if you suspect it to be rabies, it is advisable to have a sample from the cat's brain examined. A direct test of the brain is the only way to diagnose rabies with certainty.

The best way to protect your cat against rabies is to provide them with the appropriate vaccinations that help prevent the disease. Talk to your vet about scheduling an appointment to ensure 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 dog or cat due for their early vaccination against rabies? If yes, please get in touch with our vets in Seattle today for an appointment.