Reports of rabid animals are on the rise across the United States, and health authorities are urging pet owners to keep their pets’ vaccinations up to date in order to prevent potential tragedy.

Rabies is an incurable viral disease that is most often transmitted by a bite from an infected animal. Although people usually associate rabies with dogs, statistics indicate that cats are actually more likely to be infected.

Why is rabies more often found in cats? First of all, the vast majority of dogs in the US are vaccinated against rabies, but cats, particularly farm cats, often do not get rabies shots.

Cats that are allowed to go outside are more likely to come in contact with animals that carry the virus. Skunks, foxes and raccoons are the most common carriers, but unvaccinated feral cats may also be infected.

Due to concerns about overvaccination, some cat owners have decided not to have their cats vaccinated at all, or have not kept up with booster vaccinations. Although most veterinarians understand and acknowledge that overvaccination does cause health problems in cats, the rabies vaccination is one of four core vaccines recommended by the American Association of Feline Practitioners.

In Dodge County, Minn., six domestic cats have tested positive for rabies so far this year, while only two dogs have been confirmed with the disease.

There are two forms of rabies, furious rabies and dumb rabies. Most people associate rabies with the furious form, where an animal becomes aggressive, combative, and highly sensitive to touch and other kinds of stimulation.

In the dumb form of the disease, an animal stops eating and becomes lethargic, weak in one or more limbs and unable to raise its head or make sounds because its throat and neck muscles are paralyzed.

In both kinds of animal rabies, death occurs a few days after symptoms appear, usually from respiratory failure.

Veterinarian James Rundquist of Waseca, Minn., said that the dumb rabies can be a bigger problem because cat owners dont realize their pets have it. They just assume the cat is sick with something else.

This can lead to additional exposure, particularly in people.

You dont notice it up front because the animal is not being aggressive, said Minnesota veterinarian Troy Summers.

The incubation period of the disease can be anywhere from 20 to 60 days. Summers explained that the virus travels from the bite site, up the nervous system to the brain. The closer the wound is to the head, the shorter the incubation period will be.

If a cat with up-to-date shots has come in contact with a rabid animal, Summers said they will give it a booster shot as a precaution.

But if the cat is not current on vaccinations, it will be vaccinated, then receive a booster shot 10 days later and again 10 days after that. The cat willbe placed in quarantine for six months as a precaution.

If cat owners believe their pet has come in contact with a rabid animal, they should immediately isolate the cat from other people and animals and contact their veterinarian.

Common sense dictates that people should be very careful around any animal that is acting strange, like a raccoon wandering around in the middle of the day.

If the suspect animal is still in the area, residents should contact police or animal control to capture the animal for testing.

Potentially rabid wild animals will be killed because doctors need to test the brain to determine whether the virus is present. Test results normally take about three days to come back.

[Sources: Owatonna People’s Press, USA Today Healthscout, and PetEducation.com]