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Rabies Symptoms in Cats

Rabies is a transmittable disease that is preventable yet fatal if the appropriate precautions are not taken. Here, our Picayune vets discuss rabies in cats, its symptoms, how it is spread, and the prognosis.

Why is rabies so dangerous?

Rabies is a serious, uncurable disease that can be transmitted between animals (and people). This illness affects the central nervous system of mammals and spreads through bites from infected animals, traveling from the site of the bite along the nerves until it reaches the spinal cord. It then works its way from there to the victim's brain. As soon as the rabies virus reaches the brain, the infected animal will start to display symptoms and will likely die within seven days. This is a virus that is capable of infecting both people and pets, making it dangerous for everyone in the home. The good news is that there are vaccinations to reduce the risk of infection.

How do cats contract rabies?

Although this condition can be contracted and spread by any mammal, in most cases, rabies is spread by wildlife such as raccoons, bats, foxes, and skunks. Neighborhoods with large populations of unvaccinated stray cats and dogs are likely to have more rabies instances. 

Rabies spreads through the saliva of infected mammals and is most often transmitted through bites from infected animals. Rabies can also spread if the saliva of an infected animal comes in contact with an open wound or mucous membranes, such as the gums. The more often your cat is in close contact with wild animals, the higher their risk of contracting the disease.

If your cat does happen to have the rabies virus, it is transmissible to humans and other pets in the house. People can get rabies when the saliva of an infected animal, such as your cat, comes into contact with broken skin or mucus membranes. It is possible to get infected with rabies by being scratched, but this is quite unlikely. If you suspect that you have been in contact with the rabies virus, you must call your doctor immediately so they can provide you with a rabies vaccine to prevent the disease from progressing.

What are the symptoms of rabies in cats?

We may immediately picture an animal foaming at the mouth when we hear about rabies. However, this isn't exactly an accurate representation of the symptoms. A cat with rabies will have symptoms that follow three distinct phases as the disease progresses. As the disease progresses, the symptoms of rabies in cats will also change. These stages are:

Prodromal stage: In this stage, a rabid cat will typically exhibit unusual behaviors compared to their usual personality. For example, if your kitty is usually shy, they could become more outgoing, and vice versa. If you see any behavioral abnormalities in your cat after obtaining an unknown bite, keep them away from 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. Cat rabies symptoms at this stage include excessive crying out, seizures, and loss of appetite. 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 three days. 

How long does it take for rabies to show symptoms in cats?

Rabies symptoms in cats often don't show for the first week after exposure. The typical incubation period is approximately three to eight weeks, but it can be anywhere from ten days up to a year.

The rate at which rabies symptoms in cats first appear depends solely on the infection site and the severity of the bite. A bite closer to the spine or brain will develop faster than others.

Can cats with rabies be cured?

There is no cure for rabies in cats. Once a cat is infected, there is no treatment, and the condition will be fatal in as few as a few days.

Routine vaccinations for rabies (and other diseases) are the most reliable way to protect your feline friend. If anyone comes into contact with your pet's saliva or is bitten by your pet (yourself included), advise them to contact a physician immediately for treatment.

Unfortunately, rabies is always fatal for unvaccinated animals, usually occurring within seven to ten days of the initial symptoms starting. You must report the case to your local health department if your cat is diagnosed with rabies.

An unvaccinated pet that is bitten or exposed to a known rabid animal must be quarantined for up to six months according to local and state regulations. A vaccinated animal that has bitten or scratched a human should be quarantined and monitored for 10 days.

If your cat contracts rabies, the most humane option is to have them euthanized. This will protect your family and prevent your feline friend from suffering unnecessarily. The only way to test for rabies is after they've died using a sample of their brain tissue.

The best protection against rabies in cats is to provide them with the appropriate vaccinations and booster shots that help prevent the disease. Talk to your vet about scheduling an appointment to ensure 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.

Is it time to schedule your feline friend for routine vaccinations, including a rabies shot? Contact our veterinary team at Picayune Veterinary Clinic. We can help keep your furry family members safe.

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