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Rabies Symptoms in Cats

Rabies is a life-threatening disease that can be transmitted from animals to people. It is also uncurable. Here, our Killen vets discuss rabies in cats, including the symptoms, transmission and what the expected outcome is for pets with rabies.

Why is rabies so dangerous?

Rabies is a serious, uncurable disease that can be transmitted between animals (and people). 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 seven days. This is a virus that is capable of infecting both people and pets, making it dangerous for everyone in the home. The good news is that there are vaccinations to reduce the risk of infection.

How do cats contract 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.

If your cat does happen to have the rabies virus, it is transmissible 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. 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.

Rabies Symptoms in Cats

While we commonly hear about animals with rabies foaming at the mouth, this isn't always the case. A cat with rabies will show the disease in three distinct phases as the disease progresses. As the disease progresses the symptoms of rabies in cats will also change. These stages are:

Prodromal stage: In this stage, a rabid cat will typically exhibit unusual behaviors 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 three days. 

How long does rabies take to show symptoms in cats?

Rabies symptoms in cats often don't show for the first week after exposure. 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 of rabies in cats 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.

Can cats with rabies be cured?

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for rabies and after symptoms start showing, and it takes as little as a few days for the disease to seriously impact their health.

One way to help protect your cat is by having them fully vaccinated against rabies (and other serious diseases). 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.

If your cat contracts rabies, the most humane option is to have them euthanized. This will protect your family and prevent your feline friend from suffering unnecessarily. the only way to test for rabies is after they've died using a sample of their brain tissue.

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.

Time to schedule your feline friend for routine vaccinations including their rabies shot? Contact our veterinary team at Center Star Veterinary Services. We can help keep your furry family members safe.

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