Rabies is a contagious virus that is particularly deadly to cats, thankfully, it is completely preventable with diligent preventive care. Our Apple Valley vets are here to discuss the symptoms of rabies and how to prevent it from making your cat sick.
What Is Rabies
Rabies is a preventable virus that affects a mammal's central nervous system. The disease is transmitted through the bite of an infected animal and travels from the site of the bite along the nerves until it reaches the spinal cord, and works its way to the brain. Once rabies reaches the brain, the infected animal will begin to show symptoms and will usually die within 7 days.
How Is Rabies Transmitted
In the U.S., rabies is often transmitted by wildlife, such as raccoons, bats, foxes, and skunks — but it can be found in any mammal. Rabies is most commonly found in areas with high populations of unvaccinated feral cats and dogs. Cats are the most common domesticated species found to have rabies.
Rabies is transmitted through the saliva of infected mammals and is most commonly transmitted from a bite of an animal that has been infected by the virus. Rabies can also be transmitted if the saliva of an infected animal comes in contact with an open wound or mucous membranes, such as gums. The more contact your cat has with wild animals, the higher the risk of their infection.
What Are The Signs & Symptoms Of Rabies In Cats
There are typically three recognizable stages of the rabies virus in cats. Here are the recognizable rabies symptoms in cats.
Prodromal stage - In this stage, a rabid cat will usually exhibit changes in behavior that aren't typical for their personality, if your cat is normally shy, it might become more outgoing, and vice versa. If you notice any behavioral abnormalities following an unknown bite, remove your cat from any other pets and family members, and contact your vet immediately.
Furious stage - The next stage is the most dangerous, causing your cat to become nervous and even vicious. They might cry out excessively and experience seizures and loss of appetite. The virus has gotten to the stage where it has begun attacking your cat's nervous system, and it prevents them from being able to swallow, leading to the classic symptom of rabies, 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, be unable to breathe, and unfortunately, most often pass away. This stage usually occurs about seven days after symptoms begin, with death following within usually 3 days.
How Long Does Rabies Take To Show Symptoms In Cats
If your cat is exposed to the rabies virus, it will not show signs immediately. The typical incubation period is roughly three to eight weeks, however, in reality, it can be anywhere from 10 days to as long as a year.
The speed at which symptoms appear depends entirely on the infection site. A bite that is closer to the spine or brain will develop much faster than others and it also depends on the severity of the bite.
Treatment For Rabies In Cats
If your cat starts to show the symptoms of rabies, unfortunately, there is nothing you or your vet can do for them. There is no known cure for rabies and once symptoms begin to appear, your cat's health will deteriorate within a few days.
If your cat has been vaccinated against rabies, provide proof of vaccination to your veterinarian. If anyone came into contact with the cat's saliva or was bitten by your cat (yourself included), advise them to contact a physician immediately for treatment. Unfortunately, rabies is always fatal for unvaccinated animals, usually occurring within 7 to 10 days from when the initial symptoms began.
If a diagnosis of rabies is confirmed you will need to report the case to your local health department. An unvaccinated cat that is bitten or exposed to a known rabid animal must be quarantined for up to six months, or according to local and state regulations. A vaccinated animal that has bitten or scratched a human, conversely, should be quarantined and monitored for 10 days.
Your cat should be humanely euthanized to ease their suffering and to protect the other people and pets in your home. If your cat dies suddenly of what you suspect to be rabies, your vet may recommend having a sample from the cat’s brain examined. Direct testing of the brain is the only way to diagnose rabies for sure.
The best protection against rabies in cats is to get regular preventive vaccinations against the disease. Speak to your vet about making sure your cat is up to date on their rabies shots.
Cat Rabies Vaccine - Cost
The cost of rabies vaccination varies tremendously from city to city, state to state, and even from one vet to another in the same area. The type of rabies vaccine used is a key determiner of cost.
Longer-lasting vaccines, as well as vaccines with a smaller number of potential side effects, are typically much more expensive. Contact your vet to find out which rabies vaccine they use for cats and exactly how much your kitty's vaccinations will cost. Your vet can help guide you on what vaccination plan is right for your cat's health, as well as your budget.
Cat Rabies Vaccine - Schedule
The schedule for your kitty's rabies vaccination will vary depending on the brand of vaccine used.
Most vets offer vaccines without adjuvants - ingredients that proved effective in preventing rabies but caused an allergic reaction in some cats. These vaccines may or may not be more expensive than vaccines with adjuvants, which are just as effective at preventing rabies but have a higher potential for causing rare side effects, depending on the individual veterinary practice and any existing state legislation on rabies vaccination in cats.
Older non-adjuvant vaccines only lasted for a year, so yearly booster shots were required. Newer vaccines have been developed which require a single booster a year after the first vaccination, followed by boosters every three years after that; these vaccines are considerably more expensive, however, so some veterinarians opt to stick with the older vaccine technology. If you ask your vet "how often should my cat have a rabies vaccine?" they will be able to tell you about what vaccination options they offer and what schedule is best for your cat.
Kittens should begin their rabies vaccination treatment at about 12 weeks old. If you haven't already, you can schedule your cat for all its routine vaccinations and other preventative care at Apple Valley Animal Hospital.
Possible Cat Reaction to Rabies Vaccine
Cat owners often have concerns about the possible side effects their cats could experience following their rabies vaccination. Pet Parents sometimes come to our Apple Valley vets concerned about stories they have heard about "cats who have died from rabies vaccine". Fortunately, these fears are unfounded. Cat rabies vaccine side effects are rare and typically include only slight fever, lethargy, decreased appetite, and/or a localized swelling at the vaccine site.
In some excessively rare cases, a cat can have an allergic reaction to the vaccine, leading to hives, extreme weakness, and unexplained collapse. Pet parents need to know that fewer than 0.001% of cats will have allergic side effects to modern rabies vaccines. It is always safer to have your cat vaccinated against rabies than to risk potential infection in the future.
Why Your Indoor Cat Needs Their Rabies Vaccine
Cat owners might believe vaccination against rabies is unnecessary if their cat is an indoor cat, but this is not the case. While it might be true that you don't allow your cat outside your home, the potential for escape--or worse, for an infected bat or rodent to break into your home, is great enough to warrant protection for your feline companion.
The consequences of rabies are simply too dire to take any chances, the best and only way to ensure your cat is completely protected against rabies is vaccination.
It is also the case that in most US states all cats and dogs over the age of 6 months are required to be vaccinated against rabies. When you take your pet to be vaccinated your vet will be sure to issue you with a certificate of vaccination as proof that your feline friend is up to date with their rabies vaccine.
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.