Rabies in Cats

cats in alley
Rabies deaths are uncommon in the U.S .these days, and public health officials intend to keep it that way. That’s why rabies vaccinations are required for cats and dogs in many states. Even indoor cats have to follow the law.

Millions of animals—and more than 50,000 humans—around the world die each year from rabies. Most rabies-free places are islands, such as Iceland, Australia, Fiji and Taiwan. Rabies is a fact of life. It is much easier to get your cat vaccinated now than to suffer the tragedy of a possible case of rabies later.

What Is Rabies?

Any warm-blooded animal can catch this viral disease that attacks the spinal cord and brain. Mentions of rabies date back to at least 2300 B.C. It is a much-feared disease, as it is almost always fatal.


Rabies is usually transmitted through a bite, but can also be transferred from saliva into another animal’s wounds or mucous membranes. In the feline world, outdoor cats that come into contact with wild animals are most at risk. However, since bats are notorious carriers of rabies, an indoor cat can contract the disease from a bat that slips into the house. Raccoons, foxes and skunks are also leading carriers. In the U.S., rabies is more common in cats than in dogs. Stray dogs and feral cats may have rabies. If your cat has an altercation with one of these carriers, he or she is at high risk for infection.

The incubation period varies greatly. An infected cat could show signs within 10 days, or it could take a year or more for an infected cat to present rabies symptoms. The nearer the bite to the brain is, the faster the onset of the disease is. The severity of the bite and the amount of rabies virus injected are other factors. The most common incubation period is three to eight weeks, with the cat dying within 10 days of symptoms showing.


Behavioral changes are the first signs of rabies in cats. These include aggression, lethargy or, in some cases, excessive friendliness. The cat usually becomes very agitated, drools excessively and experiences muscle spasms and seizures. Next, the cat typically experiences weakness, paralysis and sudden death.


Since a veterinarian must examine the cat’s brain to definitively diagnose rabies, it is only possible to diagnose the disease posthumously. Vets use the direct-fluorescent antibody test to chart cases of rabies deaths.


Once a cat has contracted rabies, it is too late to save the cat. The only option is either euthanasia or, if an unvaccinated cat is bitten by a wild animal but you do not yet know if rabies was transmitted, a very long and expensive quarantine period. This quarantine period may last six months, and your state law may require you to place your pet in a veterinary hospital for the duration. Veterinarians have to notify regulatory authorities in suspected rabies cases.


Instead of going through the trauma and tragedy of this disease, cat owners should vaccinate their cats and kittens at the earliest opportunity. If your cat is bitten by a wild animal while up to date on rabies shots, your vet will probably recommend a rabies booster and a month or two of close observation.

Call us today and we can help protect your cat against rabies.


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