Rabies is a deadly virus that is very contagious for pets including cats. Today, our Stroudsburg 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 preventable. This illness affects mammals' central nervous systems. The disease spreads through bites from infected animals and travels along nerves from the site of the bite to the spinal cord, then to the brain. When the rabies virus enters the brain, the infected animal begins to show symptoms and usually dies within 7 days.

How does rabies spread?

Raccoons, bats, foxes, and skunks are the most common carriers of rabies in the United States, but this condition can affect any mammal. Rabies is most commonly found in areas with large populations of unvaccinated feral cats and dogs.

Rabies is spread by infected mammals' saliva and is most commonly transmitted through bites from infected animals. Rabies can also be transmitted when an infected animal's saliva comes into contact with an open wound or mucous membrane, such as the gums. The more your cat comes into contact with wild animals, the more likely it is to become infected.

If your cat has the rabies virus, it can infect you and 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 get rabies. It is possible to contract rabies from scratching, but this is extremely rare and unlikely. If you suspect you have come into contact with the rabies virus, call your doctor right away so they can give you a rabies vaccine and keep 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 - A rabid cat will typically display behavior that is different from their normal personality during this stage; for example, if your cat is typically shy, they may become more outgoing, and vice versa. Keep your cat away from other pets and family members after they have experienced an unknown bite, and call your vet right away if you notice any strange behavior in your cat.

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?

Your cat won't display any immediate symptoms if it has been exposed to the rabies virus. The typical incubation period lasts between three and eight weeks, but it can last for as long as a year.

The infection site alone determines how quickly symptoms start to show up. Depending on the bite's severity and proximity to the spine or brain, some bites will heal much more quickly than others.

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.

Please show your veterinarian proof of vaccination if your pet has received all necessary booster shots along with the rabies vaccine given to kittens. You should give them advice to contact a doctor right away for treatment if anyone was bitten by your pet or came into contact with their saliva. Sadly, rabies always results in death in animals that have not received the vaccine, and this usually happens 7 to 10 days after the first signs appear.

You must notify the local health department of the rabies diagnosis if it involves one of your cats. A non-vaccinated animal that has been bitten by or exposed to a known rabid animal must be quarantined for up to six months, or as prescribed by local and state laws. On the other hand, a vaccinated animal that has bitten or scratched a human should be quarantined and watched over for 10 days.

To end their suffering and safeguard your other family members and pets, your pet should be put to sleep in a humane manner. Your veterinarian might advise having a brain sample examined if your cat passes away suddenly from a condition you suspect to be rabies. The only accurate method for diagnosing rabies is through direct brain testing.

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 Stroudsburg vets right away.