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Rabies in Cats: Signs and Symptoms

Rabies in Cats: Signs and Symptoms

Rabies is a fatal virus that is highly contagious among most animals. Here, our Toledo vets discuss the effects of the rabies virus on cats, including how common it is, its symptoms, and how it can be avoided.

What Is Rabies?

Rabies is a highly contagious and fatal virus that can, thankfully, be avoided.

This disease affects the central nervous system and psyche of the animal that contracts it. Rabies is transmitted through bites from infected animals, and it travels along nerves from the bite site to the spinal cord, where it then travels to and infects the brain. The infected animal will begin to show symptoms as soon as the rabies virus reaches the brain, and, tragically, will usually die within 7 days.

How Does Rabies Spread?

Wildlife such as raccoons, bats, foxes, and skunks are the most common carriers of rabies in the United States, but the disease can affect any mammal. Rabies is most commonly found in populations with a higher concentration of unvaccinated feral cats and dogs.

Rabies is spread through infected saliva and is most commonly transmitted through bites. If an infected animal's saliva comes into contact with an open wound or mucous membranes, such as the gums, rabies can spread. The more wild animal contact your cat has, the more likely it is to become infected.

If your cat is infected with the rabies virus, it is pertinent to remember that they can infect you as well as other humans and animals in your home. Keep an infected cat away from other pets and humans, possibly in a cat carrier, until you can take them to the vet.

It is possible to contract rabies after being scratched, but this is extremely rare. If you suspect you've come into contact with the rabies virus, contact your doctor right away so they can give you a rabies vaccine to prevent the disease from spreading.

How Common is Rabies in Cats?

Thanks to the rabies vaccine, which is required for all household pets in most states, rabies is no longer prevalent among cats.

However, feline rabies is on the rise and is now more common in cats than dogs. Even if you have an indoor cat, they are still at risk for rabies; small animals such as mice can get infected and then enter your home.

Even if your cat has been vaccinated, if you believe they have been bitten by another animal, you should contact your veterinarian to ensure your feline friend has not been exposed to the rabies virus.

What Are The Signs & Symptoms Of Cat Rabies?

Generally, there are three recognizable stages of the rabies virus in cats. Those stages and their symptoms are:

Prodromal Stage

In this stage, a rabid cat's behavior will differ from their usual personality; for example, if your cat is normally shy, it may become more outgoing, and vice versa. If your cat exhibits any unusual behavior after receiving an unknown bite, keep them away from the rest of the household and contact your veterinarian immediately. 

Furious Stage

The furious stage is the most visible and dangerous stage because it can cause your cat to become more nervous, jumpy, or even aggressive.

They may scream uncontrollably, have seizures, and stop eating. The virus has progressed to the point where it is attacking your cat's nervous system, preventing him from swallowing, resulting in the classic symptom of excessive drooling, also known as "foaming at the mouth."

Paralytic Stage 

A rabid cat will enter a coma and be unable to breathe at this point. Unfortunately, this is the stage at which most pets pass away. This usually occurs seven days after the onset of symptoms, with death usually occurring three days later.

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

Your cat may not show any immediate signs or symptoms if it has been exposed to the rabies virus. The incubation period of rabies in cats is usually 3 to 8 weeks long, but it can last anywhere from ten days to a year.

The time it takes for symptoms to appear is entirely dependent on the infection site. A bite that is closer to the spine or brain develops much faster than others, and the severity of the bite also influences how quickly it develops.

How is Rabies Treated in Cats?

If your cat develops rabies symptoms, there is sadly nothing you or your veterinarian can do to help them. There is no known cure for rabies, and once symptoms appear, the infected animal's health will quickly deteriorate.

If your cat or kitten has received the rabies vaccine, provide proof of vaccination to your veterinarian, including all required boosters. If anyone comes into contact with the infected cat's saliva or is bitten by them, tell them to see a doctor right away. Rabies is always fatal in unvaccinated animals and it usually kills them within 7 to 10 days of the first symptoms appearing.

You must also notify your local health department if your cat has contracted rabies. Unvaccinated pets must be quarantined for up to six months after being bitten or exposed to a known rabid animal, or according to local and state regulations.

A vaccinated animal that has bitten or scratched a person should be quarantined for 10 days and monitored.

To alleviate their suffering and protect the other people and pets in your home, your pet should be humanely euthanized. If your cat dies suddenly from what you suspect is rabies, your veterinarian may suggest that a sample of the cat's brain be tested. The only sure way to diagnose rabies is to test the brain directly.

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 believe your cat has come into contact with the rabies virus, keep them away from your other pets and family members and contact our Toledo vets as quickly as possible.

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