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Rabies in Cats: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, & Treatment

Rabies in Cats: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, & Treatment

Learn about the rabies virus in cats! Our vets at San Mateo provide valuable insights on this highly contagious and deadly virus that affects pets, particularly cats. Discover its symptoms and essential prevention measures in this post.

Feline Rabies

This extremely contagious virus impacts mammals' central nervous systems. The disease spreads via bites from infected animals and travels from the site the bite has occurred along the nerves until it makes its way to the spinal cord, then to the brain. As soon as the rabies virus infects the brain, the affected animal will begin to display symptoms and will often die within 7 days. Fortunately, rabies is preventable.

Causes of Rabies in Cats

Wildlife in the United States, including foxes, skunks, bats, and raccoons, are the main carriers of rabies. However, any mammal can get the disease. Rabies is usually found in areas with many unvaccinated feral dogs and cats.

Rabies spreads through the saliva of infected mammals and is often transmitted through bites from these animals. It can also be transmitted if an infected animal comes into contact with an open wound or mucus membranes, like the gums. The more your cat interacts with wild animals, the greater the risk of infection.

If your cat does have the rabies virus, it can potentially spread it to you and other humans and animals in your household. People can contract rabies when an infected animal's saliva comes into contact with broken skin or mucus membranes. While it's possible to become infected with rabies from a cat's scratch, it's very rare and unlikely. Suppose you suspect you have been in contact with an animal that has the rabies virus. In that case, it's critical to call your doctor immediately so they can administer the rabies vaccine to prevent the disease from advancing. 

How Common Rabies Is in Cats

Fortunately,  these days, rabies is not common among cats, mainly because of the mandatory rabies vaccine for household pets in most states. This vaccine effectively prevents the deadly virus from spreading. However, it's important to note that cats are more susceptible to rabies compared to dogs. They usually get infected after being bitten by a wild animal, even if they mostly stay indoors. Infected animals like mice can get into your home and transmit the disease to your cat.

If you suspect that another animal might have bitten your furry friend, it's essential to contact your vet. Even if your cat is vaccinated, confirming that they haven't been exposed to the rabies virus is crucial. Safety first!

Signs of Rabies in Cats

Cats with rabies typically experience three distinguishable stages of the virus. Let's take a look at the signs and symptoms of rabies in cats during each stage:

Prodromal stage - In this stage, a cat with rabies 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.

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 7 days after symptoms first appear, with death usually happening after about 3 days. 

How Long Symptoms of Rabies Take to Show

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.

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.

Treating Rabies in Cats

If your cat shows signs of rabies, there's no cure available, and their health will worsen rapidly within a few days. To protect your pet from rabies, ensure they receive the necessary vaccinations and boosters, and keep a record to show your vet. If your cat bites or comes into contact with someone's saliva, advise them to seek immediate medical attention. Rabies is fatal for unvaccinated animals, usually leading to death within 7 to 10 days of the first symptoms.

If your cat is diagnosed with rabies, inform your local health department. An unvaccinated pet exposed to a rabid animal should be quarantined for up to six months as per regulations. On the other hand, a vaccinated animal that bites or scratches a person should be monitored for 10 days during quarantine.

Your pet should be humanely euthanized to ease their suffering and to protect the other people and pets in your home. 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. 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.

Do you suspect your cat may have come into contact with the rabies virus? Contact our San Mateo vets as quickly as possible.

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At South Hillsdale Animal Hospital, our experienced vets are passionate about the health of San Mateo companion animals. Get in touch today to learn more about our services and becoming a new client with us.

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