Pet owners should be aware of the rabies virus and how contagious it is for cats. Today, our Santa Cruz County vets discuss the symptoms of rabies and how it can be prevented.
What Is Rabies?
Rabies, a highly transmissible virus, can be effectively prevented. This viral infection targets the central nervous system in mammals. Transmission occurs primarily through bites inflicted by infected animals, as the virus travels along the nerves from the bite site to the spinal cord, eventually reaching the brain. Once the rabies virus infiltrates the brain, the affected animal exhibits symptoms and typically succumbs to the illness within a week.
How Does Rabies Spread?
In the United States, rabies is predominantly spread by wildlife species such as raccoons, bats, foxes, and skunks, although it can be present in any mammal. Regions with high populations of unvaccinated feral cats and dogs also tend to have a higher incidence of rabies.
Transmission of rabies occurs through the saliva of infected mammals, primarily via bites from infected animals. Additionally, contact between the saliva of an infected animal and open wounds or mucous membranes, such as the gums, can lead to transmission. The risk of infection for your cat increases with greater exposure to wild animals.
If your cat happens to be infected with the rabies virus, it can transmit the virus to both humans and other animals in your household. Humans can contract rabies if the saliva of an infected animal, including your cat, comes into contact with broken skin or mucous membranes. While it is rare and unlikely, infection through scratches is also possible. If you suspect that you have been exposed to the rabies virus, it is crucial to contact your doctor immediately to receive a rabies vaccine and prevent the progression of the disease.
How Common is Rabies in Cats?
Fortunately, the prevalence of rabies in cats has significantly decreased due to the widespread use of the rabies vaccine. In most states, it is mandatory for household pets to receive this vaccine to prevent the transmission of this potentially fatal disease. However, cats are more commonly affected by rabies compared to dogs, as evidenced by the recorded 241 cases of rabies in cats in 2018. Even if you keep your cat indoors, there is still a risk of rabies because infected animals such as mice can enter your home and transmit the virus to your cat.
If you suspect that your cat has been bitten by another animal, it is advisable to contact your veterinarian. They can assess the situation and determine if your feline companion has been exposed to the rabies virus, even if they have received the vaccine. Prompt veterinary attention is crucial to ensure the health and safety of your cat.
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:
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.
Prodromal stage - In this stage, a rabid cat will typically exhibit changes in their behavior that differs 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.
How Long Will it Take for My Cat to Show Symptoms of Rabies?
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. If your cat has been exposed to the rabies virus, it won't show any immediate signs or symptoms. The usual incubation period is approximately three to eight weeks, but, it can be anywhere from 10 days to as long as a year.
How is Rabies Treated in Cats?
If your cat begins exhibiting symptoms of rabies, there is no known treatment available to assist them. Rabies has no known cure, and once symptoms manifest, the cat's health will rapidly deteriorate within a few days.
If your pet has received the necessary kitten shots for rabies protection, along with all required boosters, it is essential to provide proof of vaccination to your veterinarian. If anyone has come into contact with your pet's saliva or been bitten, including yourself, it is important to advise them to seek immediate medical attention. Sadly, rabies is always fatal for unvaccinated animals, typically leading to death within 7 to 10 days from the onset of initial symptoms.
In the event of a rabies diagnosis in your cat, it is necessary to report the case to your local health department. An unvaccinated pet that has been bitten or exposed to a known rabid animal may need to be quarantined for up to six months, following local and state regulations. Conversely, a vaccinated animal that has bitten or scratched a human should also be quarantined and monitored for a period of 10 days.
To alleviate suffering and protect the other individuals and pets in your home, it may be necessary to humanely euthanize your cat if it is diagnosed with rabies. If your cat passes away suddenly and there are suspicions of rabies, your veterinarian might recommend having a sample from the cat's brain examined. Direct testing of the brain remains the only conclusive method to diagnose rabies.
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.