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Rabies in Cats: Signs & Symptoms

Rabies in Cats: Signs & Symptoms

Rabies is a dangerous virus that can be deadly for animals. Thankfully, there's a vaccine to keep your pet safe. Our Southborough vets discuss the risks of rabies in cats, signs to look out for, and ways to safeguard your cat.

Rabies in Cats: How serious is this virus?

Rabies is a dangerous yet preventable disease that can harm cats. It spreads through bites from infected animals and affects the nervous system, moving from the bite site to the brain. Once symptoms appear in your cat, it may die within a week.

How is rabies transmitted between cats and other animals?

In the U.S., wildlife, such as raccoons, bats, foxes, and skunks are the most responsible for spreading rabies, but any animal can contract and carry this virus. Most cases of rabies are seen in areas that have a high number of feral cats and dogs.

Rabies is passed through the saliva of an infected animal. While bites are the most common way it's transmitted, any contact with the infected saliva can spread the virus. This includes contact with open wounds or areas like the gums. If your cat often interacts with wild animals, it's at a higher risk of infection.

Unfortunately, rabies is not only able to affect animals, it can also be spread to the human members of your family. People can get rabies when the saliva of an infected animal, such as your cat, comes into contact with broken skin or mucus membranes. It is possible to get infected with rabies by being scratched, but it is very rare and unlikely. If you have potentially come into contact with an infected animal, then you should speak with your doctor to receive the rabies vaccine to help prevent the spread of the virus through your body.

Is rabies a common virus among cats?

Rabies vaccinations are required by law in many states, helping control the virus. Despite the reduced risk, it's still essential to be cautious. Cats can contract rabies from wild animals, and even indoor cats are at risk if infected animals like mice enter your home. If you suspect your cat has been bitten, contact your vet to check for rabies exposure, even if they're vaccinated.

Rabies Signs & Symptoms

Rabies in cats usually show symptoms in three stages as the infection progresses. These stages are:

Prodromal stage - In this stage, a rabid cat will typically exhibit changes in their behavior that differ 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, 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. 

When do the initial symptoms of rabies appear?

If your cat gets the rabies virus, they might not show symptoms right away. Symptoms can appear anywhere from 10 days to a year after infection. How quickly they show up depends on where the bite is and how severe it is. Bites near the spine or brain show symptoms faster.

Can rabies in cats be treated or cured?

Rabies doesn't have a cure, and once a cat shows symptoms, it may only live a few more days.

If your cat has been bitten by a rabid animal and is up to date on their rabies vaccinations, then you must provide the vaccination documentation to your vet. 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.

You must report confirmed rabies cases in your cat to the health department. Unvaccinated pets exposed to rabies must be quarantined for up to six months or as per local rules. Vaccinated pets that bite or scratch humans need a 10-day quarantine.

To protect your family and other pets as well as prevent unnecessary suffering of your cat, you should have your feline friend euthanized once they have been diagnosed. 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 cats from rabies is vaccination. Consult your vet about necessary 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 your cat has come into contact with the saliva of a wild or rabid animal, you should isolate them and contact our Southborough vets right away.

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