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How to Tell if a Cat Has Rabies

Rabies is a deadly virus that is very contagious for pets including cats. Today, our Port Jefferson vets discuss the impact the rabies virus can have on cats including how common it is, the symptoms, and how it is prevented.

What Is Rabies?

Rabies is a highly contagious virus, but it is avoidable. This disease affects mammals' central nervous systems. The disease spreads through bites from infected animals and travels along the nerves from the site of the bite to the spinal cord and then to the brain. When the rabies virus enters the brain, the infected animal begins to exhibit symptoms and usually dies within 7 days.

How Does Rabies Spread?

In the U.S. wildlife, such as raccoons, bats, foxes, and skunks are the ones most responsible for spreading rabies— but this condition can be found in any mammal. Usually, rabies is found in areas that have high populations of unvaccinated feral cats and dogs. 

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 contact your cat has with wild animals, the higher the risk is of becoming infected. 

If your cat has the rabies virus, it can infect you as well as the other humans and animals in your home. When the saliva of an infected animal, such as your cat, comes into contact with broken skin or mucus membranes, people can contract rabies. It is possible to contract rabies from being scratched, but this is extremely rare and unlikely. If you believe you have come into contact with the rabies virus, contact your doctor immediately so that you can receive a rabies vaccine and prevent the disease from spreading.

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 believe your kitty has been bitten by another animal we recommend calling your vet to make sure your feline friend hasn't been exposed to the rabies virus, even if they are vaccinated.

What Are The Signs & Symptoms Of Cat Rabies?

Generally, there are three recognizable stages of the rabies virus in cats, below we have listed the stages including the signs and symptoms that accompany 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 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. 

How Long Will it Take for My Cat to Show Symptoms of Rabies?

If your cat has been exposed to the rabies virus, it will not show any symptoms right away. 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.

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

Rabies is transmitted through saliva, so fortunately 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.

How is Rabies Treated in Cats?

If your cat starts displaying symptoms of rabies, there is unfortunately nothing you or your vet can do to help them. There is no known cure for rabies and after symptoms start appearing, their health will deteriorate within a few days.

Provide proof of vaccination to your veterinarian if your pet has received the kitten shots that protect them from rabies, including all required boosters. If anyone comes into contact with their saliva or is bitten by your pet (including yourself), tell them to see a doctor right away. Unfortunately, rabies is always fatal in unvaccinated animals, usually within 7 to 10 days of the onset of symptoms.

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 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 protection against rabies in cats is to provide them with the appropriate vaccinations 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.

If you are concerned that your cat might have been bitten by a rabid animal, isolate them from all other pets and family members and contact our Port Jefferson vets right away.

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