Rabies in Cats - Do you know the facts?

Between 2000 and 2004, more cats than dogs were reported to be infected with rabies in the U.S. The majority of these cases were associated with spill over infection from the racoon population located in the eastern U.S. states. Lower cat vaccination and leash law regulation are thought to have played a part in this outbreak.

Understanding the Infectious Path of the Rabies Virus.

cats and rabies
Cats who venture outdoors may come into contact with various other animals

First, the raccoon is itself bitten by a rabid animal, who transmits the disease to the raccoon through its infected saliva. The disease spreads though the raccoon's nerves to its brain and spinal cord. The raccoon shows no signs of illness during the three to twelve week incubation period. Upon reaching the raccoon's brain, the virus aggressively multiplies, then spreads to the animal's salivary glands. The animal's symptoms become apparent at this stage. The infected raccoon typically dies within seven days of become visibly ill.

Rabies is most commonly passed from bats, skunks, and foxes as well as from raccoons.

Dealing With Rabies In Cats

Should your cat be bitten and infected with rabies, it will take on average about a month for the cat to show symptoms, but it can be longer. Once symptoms surface, the cat can become seriously ill, with the disease advancing rapidly. Rabies is caused by the virus, polioencephalitis, which can be passed between animals and humans (All mammals can be affected.) Hence the reason why you should both be aware of this disease's symptoms in your cat and be prepared to act quickly.

There are actually two forms of rabies

1. Paralytic
2. Furious

During the first few days of rabies, the cat will only show mild neurological symptoms. From there, most cats progress to either the paralytic stage, the furious stage, or some combination of the 2. However, some cats will succumb to the infection without ever having displayed symptoms of any kind.

Paralytic rabies, characteristically causes loss of coordination, weakness and ultimately paralysis. Furious rabies is notable for extreme changes in behavior, causing a calm, peaceful cat to suddenly become highly aggressive and predatory. To put it bluntly, Rabies moves very, very fast. Cats with observable symptoms appear have a very poor prognosis. Should your cat get in a fight, be scratched or bitten or if you suspect your cat has been in contact with a rabid animal, get your cat to your veterinarian for treatment, immediately. This applies even if your cat has been vaccinated against rabies.

Symptoms to Look Out For

The key to being protective of your cat and your family when it comes to rabies is to keep an eye out for the following symptoms:

  • Inability to swallow
  • Changes in behavior & attitude/Irritability
  • Fever
  • Dropped jaw
  • Paralysis
  • Frothy saliva or hypersalivation
  • Jaw & larynx paralysis
  • Seizures
  • Pica (the eating of inappropriate things)
  • Excessively excitable
  • Unusually shy or aggressive

Rabies is transmitted through the exchange of saliva or blood from an animal that is already infected. Some virus can be transmitted by the gases which escape from decomposing animal carcasses and some may be shed from infected animals through their breath and saliva. While this means of transmission is rare, it is most often associated with caves harboring large bat populations, where rabies is widespread.

Should you suspect your cat has been infected, contact your vet asap. If it can be done safely, subdue and cage your cat and take it to the vet for quarantine. If your cat has already become aggressive, play it smart and allow animal control to contain your cat. Once your cat has made it to the vet, it will be quarantined in a locked cage for ten days. Bear in mind, rabies is sometimes confused with other conditions that can trigger unusually aggressive behavior. If your cat's symptoms progress to the point of indicating that it is indeed infected, your veterinarian will be compelled to put it to sleep. While your vet may collect fluid samples if the cat dies while in quarantine, the virus will be confirmed through brain testing, which must be done by a state approved lab.  

Handling Rabies in Cats.

 Keep proof of your cat's rabies vaccination handy, in the event that you should need to present it to either your vet or Health Authorities. If you or anyone else has been in contact with the cat's saliva or been bitten by the infected feline, medical treatment must be addressed immediately. Do note that a rabies diagnosis for a cat will always prove fatal, usually within seven to ten days from when the symptoms surfaced. A positive rabies diagnosis must be reported to your local health department. Vaccinated cats that have scratched or bitten a person will have to be quarantined and monitored for ten days by a veterinarian or Health Department Authority or Animal Control. Unvaccinated cats that have been exposed to or bitten by an animal known to be rabid will be kept in quarantine for up to 6 months, or as dictated by state and local regulations and Health Authorities.

After Your Cat is Quarantined: Next Steps.

You'll have to disinfect any part of your living area where the infected cat might have wandered. Use a 1:32 ratio of household bleach and water (four ounces for every gallon) to neutralize all surfaces where the virus may be residing. Wear gloves and keep all people and animals out of the area until it's thoroughly disinfected. Go over the affected areas multiple times. Contact your local Health Authorities for best practices regarding procedures and methods.