Skip to Main Content
Ask About Financing

Rabies in Cats - What You Need to Know

Rabies is not only fatal for cats, it can be passed from our feline friends to us! Below, you will find information on how rabies is spread, what makes it so deadly, symptoms and prevention.

The Deadly Rabies Virus

Rabies is an easily preventable and extremely contagious virus affecting the central nervous system of mammals such as cats, dogs and people. It is spread by saliva passed along through bites from infected animals. The virus travels from the bite wound along the nerves until it reaches the spinal cord, then works its way from there to the brain.

As soon as the rabies virus reaches the brain, the infected animal starts to display symptoms and will typically die within 7 days.

How Rabies is Spread

Rabies is typically spread by wildlife such as raccoons, bats, foxes, and skunks, but can be contracted and spread by any mammal. Rabies is most often seen in neighborhoods with large populations of unvaccinated stray cats and dogs. 

Rabies spreads through the saliva of infected mammals and is most often transmitted through bites from infected animals. Rabies can also spread if the saliva of an infected animal comes in contact with an open wound or mucous membranes, such as the gums. The more contact your cat has with wild animals, the higher the risk is of becoming infected. 

If your cat does happen to have the rabies virus, it can spread it to you and the other humans and animals living in your home. People can get rabies when the saliva of an infected animal (such as your cat) comes into contact with broken skin or mucus membranes. It is possible to get infected with rabies by being scratched, but it is rare and highly unlikely.

If you suspect you have been in contact with the rabies virus call your doctor immediately! You will be provided with a rabies vaccine to help keep the disease from advancing.

Rates of Rabies Cases in Cats

Thanks in large part to the widespread use of the rabies vaccine - which is mandatory for household pets in most states - cases of rabies in cats are relatively rare. However, this virus is now more common in cats than it is in dogs with 241 recorded cases of rabies in cats in 2018. Most often cats get rabies after being bitten by a wild animal, even if you have an indoor cat they are still at risk for rabies because infected animals such as mice can enter your home and spread the condition to your cat.

Notifiy your vet right away if your pet has been bitten by another animal. Appropriate steps will be taken to determine if the other animal was infected by rabies.

How to Tell if a Cat Has Rabies

Cat rabies symptoms will vary from one stage to the next:

Prodromal stage - In this stage, a rabid cat typically exhibits out-of-character behaviors. For example, if your kitty is usually shy, they could become more outgoing, and vice versa. If you see any behavioral abnormalities in your cat after they have obtained an unknown bite, keep them away from other pets and family members, and call your vet immediately.

Furious stage - This stage is the most dangerous because it makes your pet nervous and even vicious. Cat rabies symptoms at this stage include crying out excessively, seizures and loss of appetite. The virus has gotten to the stage where it has begun attacking the nervous system, and it prevents your cat from being able to swallow, leading to the classic symptom of 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, and won't be able to breathe. Unfortunately, this is the stage where pets usually pass away. This often takes place about seven days after symptoms first appear, with death usually happening after about 3 days. 

Time From Contact With Virus to Start of Symptoms

A cat with rabies won't show any immediate signs or symptoms. The usual incubation period is about three to eight weeks, but, 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 closer to the spine or brain will develop much faster than others. The severity of the bite may also impact timelines.

Treatment for Rabies In Cats

Sadly, if your cat contracts rabies there is nothing you or your vet can do to help them. There is no known cure for rabies and after symptoms start appearing, their health will deteriorate within a few days.

If your pet has had the kitten shots that protect them from rabies, including all required boosters, provide proof of vaccination to your veterinarian. If anyone came into contact with their saliva or was bitten by your pet (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 start.

If your cat is diagnosed with rabies you will have to report the case to your local health department. An unvaccinated pet 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 pet 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 provide them with the appropriate vaccinations that help prevent the disease. Talk to your vet about scheduling an appointment to make sure your pet is up to date with their rabies shots and other vaccinations. 

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. 

Has your cat been bitten by another animal, or do you have reason to believe that your cat may have rabies? Contact our Lincoln Park vets immediately for guidance.

New Patients Welcome

Dix Animal Hospital is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Lincoln Park companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

Contact Us

Book Online (313) 383-7387