Rise in Cat Rabies Cases: Is Your Cat Safe?


Rabies always seemed to be a remote, old-fashioned threat to me, a scary relic from movies like Old Yeller or Cujo, but not something I’d encounter in my own neighborhood. Unfortunately, rabies in cats is on the rise (and cats fall victim to the disease more often than dogs), and this is not only a threat to your pets, but to you and your family as well.A number of recent stories warn of the danger, and it’s important that you understand the symptoms EARLY. When your cat begins to exhibit symptoms, the disease can be transmitted by saliva. You need not be bitten to contract the disease. Rabies can be transmitted through a wound, scratch or abrasion when it comes in contact with the saliva of a rabid animal, and through a scratch inflicted by an animal if fresh saliva is on the nail of the animal that inflicts the scratch.

After a cat has become infected with the virus, it takes two to six weeks for the virus to travel from the bite site to the nerves to the brain, then to the salivary glands where it can be spread through a bite. Once the virus has infected the brain, the cat will exhibit recognizable symptoms of rabies, which may include the following:

  • At first (one to two days after reaching the brain), an erratic fever as well as nervousness, solitude, and anxiety.
  • In the next stage (the “furious” phase), cats become irritable, aggressive, even furious, and will hiss without provocation. The cat will become sensitive to being touched and a normally friendly cat can become very shy.
  • The last stage of the disease is the paralytic stage, during which parts of their bodies will become numb and paralyzed. Animals may make a choking sound and many owners think that there is something lodged in their throats. Cats will salivate because of their inability to swallow. A dropped jaw, labored breathing, and choking follows. Cats usually get weaker after this stage, their respiratory systems give up, and they eventually die.

Once symptoms present, the cat will die within ten days. There is no cure. In some locales, non-vaccinated animals who are exposed to rabies (not necessarily bitten, but exposed) are euthanized immediately.

Keep your vaccinations up to date. Many locales mandate rabies vaccinations. Discuss with your veterinarian whether your indoors-only cat(s) should be vaccinated. Usually, they should. Indoor cats are vulnerable if they go missing, and even in city dwellings it is possible for rabies-infected animals (like bats) to find their way into homes and apartments. If that happens, your cat is likely to pursue the infected animal and risk being infected herself.

If you’re a victim of our current economic woes and cannot afford to keep your pets’ vaccinations current, contact your local SPCA to inquire about low-cost or free vaccination clinics.

[ILLUSTRATION CREDIT: Symptoms of Rabies Website]

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