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Rabies in Cats: Signs & Symptoms

Rabies in Cats: Signs & Symptoms

Rabies is a contagious virus that is easily spread and typically fatal for animals that contract it. Luckily, there is a vaccination that can help protect your pet. Today, our Montecito vets share the dangers of rabies in cats, the symptoms to watch for and how you can help protect your feline friend.

Rabies in Cats: How serious is this virus?

Rabies is a highly contagious, potentially deadly yet preventable disease that can affect cats. This illness attacks the central nervous system of mammals. The disease 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. Your cat will begin to show symptoms once the virus has reached their brain and will likely die within 7 days.

How is rabies transmitted between cats and other animals?

In the U.S. wildlife, such as raccoons, bats, foxes, and skunks are the ones 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 transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal and while it most commonly occurs during animal bites, it can be spread through any contact with infected saliva. Rabies can also spread if the saliva of an infected animal comes in contact with an open wound or mucous membranes, such as the gums. The more contact your cat has with wild animals, the higher the risk of becoming infected. 

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 membrane. 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?

The rabies vaccination is mandatory by-law in most states and so this virus is largely kept under control. Even though the risk is lower at this time it is still possible so precautions should always be taken. 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.

Rabies Signs & Symptoms

The symptoms of rabies in cats typically fall in with the three stages that an animal goes through as they are infected. 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 has been infected with the rabies virus they will likely not show any signs of symptoms in the early stages. The usual incubation period is approximately three to eight weeks, but, it can 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.

Can rabies in cats be treated or cured?

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for rabies at this time and once the symptoms begin to appear your cat likely only has a few days left to live.

If your cat has been bitten by a rabid animal and is up to date on their rabies vaccinations then you will need to 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 are required to report your cat's rabies to the health department as soon as it is confirmed. 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.

In order 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 protection against rabies in cats is to provide them with the appropriate vaccinations that help prevent the disease. Your vet will be able to let you know if your cat is in need of any routine 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 Montecito vets right away.

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