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Felinexpress.com Home > Cat Health > Understanding Rabies in Cats

Understanding Rabies in Cats

What is rabies?

Rabies is a viral disease (meaning an opportunistic, highly contagious disease) that affects the nervous system of animals and humans who come in contact with a rabid animal. Rabies is always fatal if allowed to reach the brain. Your cat does not have to be bitten by the rabid animal to contract rabies. The rabies just needs a way to enter the body through scratches, or open contact including eating a carcass of an infected host.

Who is more susceptible to contracting rabies?

Generally, wildlife is at risk. Bats, skunks, foxes and raccoons are the most common carriers. But recent studies show that unvaccinated cats, dogs, horses and cattle are also in the high- risk category. Because outside cats are survivalists, they will hunt. Even a well-fed house cat allowed outside will hunt. They may come across a kill that is infected with rabies and eat their fill. Once they are infected, an unvaccinated cat has no hope of recovery.

How will I know if my cat has rabies?

Rabies is tricky when it comes to symptoms. Depending on the type of exposure, you could possibly see symptoms immediately, or not for weeks or even months. The virus wants to get into the brain so once inside the host it replicates, spreads and travels along, using the central nervous system. Once it finds placement in the brain, the virus again replicates spreading rapidly throughout the body. The incubation period is 9-51 days.

The invasion of the virus occurs in stages once the virus has entered the brain. The virus is slow-moving and symptoms once they do occur can be easily missed. Once the virus has taken hold in your cat’s brain, the virus is then free to travel through the salivary glands. The stages of rabies are:

  • The Prodromal Stage
    Typically lasts 24-48 hours, this stage causes a reversal in your cat’s behavior. If your cat currently is very loving, he will turn aggressive. Aggressive cats become passive and loving, friendly cats become timid and shy. A rabid cat will continually try to lick and soothe the entry wound making the cat extremely contagious to you and other animals.
  • The Furious Stage
    Your cat becomes quite agitated and aggressive. He will attempt to eat items he normally wouldn’t touch, including items that are not food. In this stage, you are susceptible to him attacking you.
  • The Paralytic Stage
    This is the end stage of rabies and soon your cat will die from respiratory failure. In this stage, you cat will avoid water, although there will be a flood of drool coming from his mouth. Breathing will become difficult, the jaw will lock up and the cat will be unwilling and unable to eat.

    Thankfully, in the United States, most people exposure to rabies comes after watching Old Yeller. Humans exposed to rabies are rare, but as more forests are cut down and wildlife is forced to find other places to hunt and live, rabies is becoming more prevalent.

    The major source of rabies for cats come from the bite of an infected animal, live virus rabies vaccines and cats finding and eating the remains of an animal infected with rabies. Although female cats are avid hunters and providers of food for their kittens, male cats are more commonly infected with rabies. The best preventative against rabies is to vaccinate your cats against this disease. If you suspect your cat has rabies, take no action yourself. Call your local health official or animal control officer right away.

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