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Rabies in Cats

Rabies is a deadly, very contagious virus that can infect pets, including cats. Today, our Santa Clarita vets discuss the causes, signs, and treatment of rabies in cats.

What is rabies in cats?

The rabies virus is highly contagious and affects the central nervous systems of mammals. The disease spreads through bites from infected animals, traveling from the site of the bite along the nerves to the spinal cord and then to the brain. Once the virus infects the brain, the affected animal will begin to show symptoms and will often die within 7 days. The good news is that rabies is preventable.

Causes of Rabies in Cats

The rabies virus is transmitted through direct contact with the saliva or nervous tissue of an infected animal. The most common way cats contract rabies is through bites from rabid animals such as raccoons, bats, skunks, foxes, or other cats.

Once the virus enters the body, it travels through the nervous system to the brain, where it causes inflammation and severe neurological symptoms.

How Common Rabies Is in Cats

Fortunately, rabies isn't common among cats these days, largely due to the rabies vaccine that's mandatory for household pets in most states. The vaccine has helped to prevent this deadly virus from spreading. However, the virus is more common in cats than in dogs. Most often, cats contract rabies after being bitten by a wild animal. Even if your cat stays indoors most of the time, they are still at risk for rabies because infected animals such as mice can get into your home and spread the disease to your cat. 

If you think your four-legged companion may have been bitten by another animal, we recommend contacting your vet to confirm your cat hasn't been exposed to the rabies virus, even if they are vaccinated. 

Signs & Symptoms of Rabies in Cats

Rabies symptoms in cats typically appear in stages and can vary depending on the progression of the disease. The incubation period (the time between exposure and the onset of symptoms) can range from a few weeks to several months. Symptoms of rabies in cats include:

1. Prodromal Stage (1-3 days)
  • Behavioral changes (e.g., increased aggression or unusual friendliness)
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
2. Furious Stage (2-4 days)
  • Hyperactivity and aggression
  • Excessive drooling
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Vocalization (growling or yowling)
  • Disorientation and hallucinations
3. Paralytic (Dumb) Stage
  • Weakness and paralysis, starting at the site of the bite
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dropped jaw
  • Respiratory failure

How is rabies diagnosed in cats? 

Diagnosing rabies in cats can be challenging because the symptoms resemble those of other neurological disorders. If rabies is suspected, immediate action is crucial.

The veterinarian will consider the cat’s history, including potential exposure to rabid animals and vaccination status. A thorough physical and neurological examination will be performed to assess the symptoms

Unfortunately, a definitive diagnosis of rabies can only be confirmed through laboratory tests on brain tissue, which can only be conducted post-mortem.

Treatment for Rabies in Cats

If your pet has had the kitten shots that protect them from rabies, including all required boosters, provide proof of vaccination to your veterinarian. 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 local and state regulations. Conversely, a vaccinated animal that has bitten or scratched a human 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.

Are you worried your cat may have come into contact with the rabies virus? Contact our Santa Clarita vets as quickly as possible.

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Sweetwater Veterinary Clinic is accepting new patients! Our friendly and experienced vets are passionate about the health of Santa Clarita companion animals and horses. Get in touch today to book your four-legged friend's first appointment.

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