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Rabies in Cats – Symptoms and Prevention of this Zoonotic Condition

picture of an angry cat

How dangerous is rabies for cats? Are you at risk of getting rabies from your cat? Can rabies be prevented? We’ll answer all of these questions and many more in today’s article. 

What is rabies?

Rabies is a viral disease that affects the nervous system. It can be found in many wild animals, especially carnivores and bats, but it can affect almost any mammal. To date, rabies is not a disease that can be treated, and in most cases, it is fatal. 

There are countries across the world that have declared themselves rabies-free as they have adopted thorough elimination standards. While in North America and Europe, it has been eradicated in most domestic animals, it can still affect wildlife. 

Even though there have been that many cases of cats spreading rabies to other cats or even to humans, there have been cases of cats catching rabies from other types of animals. In all rabid cats, the virus is present in their saliva, and since some people have been bitten by rabid cats before, they have unfortunately developed the disease, too. 

While the saliva does contain the virus so it is the means of getting it spread to other animals and humans, the saliva itself doesn’t cause the infection unless through a bite. 

Rabies can remain undetected for weeks or even months before any clinical signs are developed. That’s what makes it even more dangerous as during this time, the animal can be a vector of the disease without even showing any symptoms. 

Signs of rabies in cats

Before we move on to describe the symptoms of this viral infection, we have to note that the number of cases reported in cats in North America is far higher than those reported in dogs. That is why vaccinating your cat against rabies is paramount, both to protect your feline friend, and to protect yourself and your family. 

Most animals that have rabies begin to show significant changes in their behavior, such as the following:

  • Irritability
  • Apprehension or nervousness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Hyperexcitability
  • Solitude 
  • Aggressiveness

These symptoms are present in all animal species, not just in cats. An obedient and rather calm cat can become extremely vicious and without any particular reason. When it comes to wild animals, they can be seen putting themselves in unusual situations, wandering during the day even if they are nocturnal, or showing heavy salivation. 

Noise seems to cause even more severe symptoms, with the animal becoming more aggressive, alert, as well as anxious. All cats that have rabies have dilated pupils and are either fearful or rabid. As the disease progresses, the symptoms become more and more severe to the point that they turn into seizures or lack of muscle coordination. 

Partial or generalized paralysis typically precedes death. The reason cats that have rabies salivate so much is that the disease causes paralysis of the throat and jaw muscles, making it impossible for the animal to swallow. 

Is there any treatment?

There is no treatment for rabies. Moreover, because it is so aggressive, and it leads to death in the vast majority of cases, it is considered a highly dangerous zoonotic condition

Even diagnosing a cat with rabies is extremely difficult, especially since its early symptoms can be confused with those of other diseases. Rabies diagnostic tests can be performed in laboratories, but the animal is always euthanized as it poses a threat to public health. 

Prevention and control

In many countries, rabies vaccination is mandatory for cats and dogs. However, indoor cats have a significantly lower risk of catching this disease, especially if they don’t come in contact with any other animals. 

The World Health Organization has guidelines put in place for controlling rabies in dogs, and since in the United States, the domestic animal that’s reported to be a vector of the disease is the cat, all cats should be vaccinated against rabies, too. 

The cost of the vaccination is around $20-$40 and it is separate from the other vaccines included in the standard plans applied for kittens and adult cats. If your cat is vaccinated against rabies regularly, meaning every one to two years, she has no chance of getting it from other domestic or wild animals. 

What happens with cats that are suspected of having rabies?

All animals that show symptoms similar to rabies, especially in the more advanced form of the disease, are euthanized immediately. The National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians recommends doing this, and even if the cat guardian doesn’t agree with the practice, the cat should still be placed in isolation. 

Any cat that is suspected of having rabies should have no other human or animal contact for a period of up to six months. If the animal is suspected of having caught it and showing symptoms and he or she has been vaccinated, re-vaccination is necessary immediately. A period of 45 days of close observation is required, too, and the cat is isolated during this time. 

Can you get rabies from a cat?

Because it is such a dangerous disease, you might ask yourself just what are the chances of you becoming infected with the rabies virus from your feline friend. As we have previously noted, if you have an indoor cat and he/she doesn’t come in contact with any animals, particularly wildlife, the risk of your pet getting infected is practically nonexistent.

However, vaccinating your cat against rabies is something that you should consider both because it can protect your pet, yourself, your family, and your friends, but also because it guarantees that you aren’t going to have any legal problems.

If you have someone coming over for a visit and for one reason or the other, your cat ends up biting them, you should show them the records according to which your cat is vaccinated against this zoonotic disease. 

Most people who are bitten by dogs or cats have to go to the nearest infectious disease hospital and get vaccinated against tetanus and rabies even if the animal is immunized against the second medical condition. Veterinarians and other individuals who work in high-risk environments should get vaccinated against these diseases for safety reasons. 

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