The rabies virus is very deadly and extremely dangerous, even in cats. Today, our Cave Creek vets explain the ways rabies spreads among cats as well as its symptoms during each stage of infection.
What is Rabies?
Rabies is an extremely contagious but preventable virus. This illness affects the central nervous system of mammals and spreads through bites from infected animals and travels from the site of the bite along the nerves until it reaches the spinal cord, and works its way from there to the brain. As soon as the rabies virus reaches the brain, the infected animal will start to display symptoms and often dies within 7 days.
How the Rabies Virus Spreads
In the United States wildlife, such as skunks, foxes, bats, and raccoons are the ones most responsible for the spread of rabies— however, this virus can be seen in any mammal. Typically, rabies is most common in areas that have high populations of feral cats and dogs that are unvaccinated.
Rabies spreads through the saliva of infected animals and is commonly transmitted through bites from infected mammals. Rabies can also spread if an infected animal's saliva comes in contact with mucous membranes (such as the gums), or an open wound. The more your cat comes into contact with wild animals, the higher their risk of infection becomes.
If your cat does happen to be infected with the rabies virus they can spread it to you as well as the other pets and people living in your home. Humans can get rabies when the saliva of an infected animal such as your cat comes into contact with mucus membrane or broken skin. You can become infected with rabies by getting scratched although it's very rare and highly unlikely. If you believe you have been in contact with the rabies virus it's very important to contact your doctor immediately so they can give you a rabies vaccine to prevent the disease from advancing.
How Common is Rabies in Cats?
Luckily today rabies isn't as common among our feline companions mostly thanks to the rabies vaccine, which is mandatory for companion pets in the majority of states to help prevent this deadly virus from spreading. But, this virus is now seen more often in cats than in dogs with 241 recorded cases of rabies in cats in 2018. It's most common for cats to 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.
The Symptoms of Rabies in Cats
Generally, there are three recognizable stages of the rabies virus in cats, we have listed the stages below as well as the signs and symptoms that are seen in each stage:
Prodromal stage - Usually in this stage, a rabid cat will show changes in their behavior that is different from their usual personality, if your feline companion is generally shy, they could become more outgoing, and vice versa. If you notice any abnormalities in your cat's behavior after they have gotten 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 stage is where a rabid cat will go into a coma and is unable 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 it Takes Cats to Show Symptoms of Rabies
If your kitty has been exposed to the rabies virus, it won't develop any immediate symptoms. The typical incubation period is about three to eight weeks, although, it could be anywhere from 10 days to as long as 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.
Treating Cats With Rabies
If your cat starts showing any symptoms of rabies, there is unfortunately nothing you or your vet will be able to do to help them. There is no known cure for rabies and once symptoms start appearing, their health will deteriorate within a few days.
If your pet has gotten the kitten shots that protect them from rabies, including all required boosters, show your veterinarian proof of vaccination. If anyone has come into contact with your cat's saliva or was bitten by your pet (yourself included), tell them to contact a physician immediately to get treatment. Unfortunately, rabies is always fatal for unvaccinated animals, usually within 7 to 10 days after the initial symptoms first appeared.
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 way to protect your cat from rabies 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.