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Rabies in Cats: Symptoms & Vaccinations

Rabies in Cats: Symptoms & Vaccinations

Rabies is a highly contagious and usually fatal virus among cats and other domesticated pets. Our McAllen vets discuss the effects of the rabies virus on felines, how common it is, its symptoms, and how it can be avoided.

What Is Rabies?

Rabies is a highly contagious virus that affects the central nervous system and brain of the infected animal. This virus is scary, yes, but it can thankfully be avoided.

Rabies transmitted through bites from infected animals. It travels from the bite site, along the spinal cord, to the brain. The infected animal will begin to show symptoms as soon as the rabies virus reaches the brain, and will usually die within 7 days.

How Does Rabies Spread?

The most common carriers of rabies are local wildlife such as foxes and raccoons. The virus is most commonly found in areas with large populations of unvaccinated feral cats and dogs.

Rabies can spread to your cat if the infected animal's saliva comes into contact with an open cut or their gums/other membranes. The more wild animal contact your cat has, the more likely it is to become infected.

If your cat is infected with the rabies virus, it can infect you, other humans, or other animals and pets in your home. It is possible to contract rabies after being scratched, but this is extremely rare. If you suspect you've come into contact with the rabies virus, contact your doctor right away so they can give you a rabies vaccine to prevent the disease from spreading.

With that in mind, it is crucial to separate your cat from yourself and the rest of the household if you suspect it is infected! Keep your kitty in a comfortable carrier or separate room until you can safely take them to the vet.

How Common is Rabies in Cats?

Rabies is no longer as common in cats in recent years, however, more cats are infected with rabies than dogs as a whole. Even if you have an indoor cat, they are still at risk for rabies because small infected animals, like mice, can slip into your home and spread the virus.

Even if your cat has been vaccinated, if you believe they have been bitten by another animal, you should contact your veterinarian immediately.

What Are The Signs & Symptoms Of Cat Rabies?

There are three recognizable stages of the rabies virus in cats:

Prodromal Stage: In this stage, a rabid cat's behavior will typically differ from its usual personality; it may become more outgoing, more shy, more skittish, etc. If your cat exhibits any unusual behavior after receiving an unknown bite, keep them away from the rest of the household and contact your vet right away.

Furious Stage: This is the most dangerous stage because it causes your pet to become nervous and even aggressive. They may scream uncontrollably, have seizures, and stop eating. The virus has progressed to the point where it is attacking your cat's nervous system, preventing him from swallowing, resulting in the classic symptom of excessive drooling, also known as "foaming at the mouth."

Paralytic Stage: This stage typically occurs about 7 days following infection. A rabid cat will enter a coma and struggle to breathe at this point. Unfortunately, this is the stage at which most pets die. 

How Long Will it Take for My Cat to Show Symptoms of Rabies?

Your cat will not show any immediate signs or symptoms if it has been exposed to the rabies virus. The incubation period is usually three to eight weeks long, but it can last anywhere from ten days to a year.

The time it takes for symptoms to appear is entirely dependent on the infection site. A bite that is closer to the spine or brain develops much faster than others, and the severity of the bite also influences how quickly it develops.

How is Rabies Treated in Cats?

There is no known cure for rabies, and once symptoms appear, they are already very sick and their health will rapidly decline. Still, it is usually best practice to bring your infected cat into the vet soon after infection.

Upon arrival, provide proof of vaccination for rabies to your veterinarian, including all required boosters. Rabies is always fatal in unvaccinated animals, and it usually kills them within 7 to 10 days of the first symptoms appearing.

If your vet diagnoses your cat with rabies, notify your local health department. Unvaccinated pets must be quarantined for up to six months after infection (window of time may change depending on your state laws/policies). A vaccinated animal that has bitten or scratched a person, on the other hand, should be quarantined for 10 days and monitored.

To alleviate their suffering and protect the other people and pets in your home, your pet should be humanely euthanized. If your cat dies suddenly from what you suspect is rabies, your veterinarian may suggest that a sample of the cat's brain be tested. The only sure way to diagnose rabies is to test the brain directly.

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.

If you believe your cat has come into contact with the rabies virus, keep them away from your other pets and family members and contact our McAllen vets as quickly as possible.

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Looking for a vet in McAllen? Nolana Animal Hospital is now accepting new patients! Our welcoming vets are passionate about pets and will provide your cat or dog with the care they need. Contact us today to schedule your pet's first appointment.

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