Rabies: What You Need To Know To Protect Your Cat

What is Rabies

Rabies has a diabolical reputation, evoking age-old images of infected animals, usually dogs, foaming at the mouth and viciously attacking humans. Probably for good reason, as this is truly a horrific disease. Rabies is one of few diseases in modern times that are almost 100% lethal and have no cure once symptoms appear.

Rabies is caused by a virus that attacks the central nerve system of warm blooded animals. Infected animals excrete the virus in their saliva. When they bite a healthy animal, or a human, the virus enters the body of its new host, traveling towards the brain along the peripheral nerves.

Symptoms: How To Tell If Your Cat Has Rabies

Symptoms of Rabies can take weeks to months to develop, as the virus gradually makes its way to the brain. Once the brain is affected, a cat is likely to show increasing signs of discomfort for one or more days, followed by a more acute phase, known as “the furious stage” of the disease. During that stage, a diseased cat is likely to undergo extreme behavioral changes and become very aggressive. Finally, the animal enters the paralytic stage, gradually losing control over limbs, becoming increasingly paralysed until it dies.

There is no cure for rabies once symptoms are apparent. The only course of action in case of a diseased animal is to put it to sleep as soon as possible.

What to do is you suspect your cat came in contact with a rabid animal

Due to the extreme nature of this disease, if you suspect your cat may have come into contact with a rabid animal, you must act fast.

Contact your vet immediately to have your cat checked and quarantined. Laws and local regulations determine the length of quarantine, but it is likely to be ten days if your cat is vaccinated and much longer if it is not.

Prevention of Rabies

Prevention is key in dealing with Rabies. You should limit, and preferably prevent, your cat from coming in contact with wildlife. If your cat is allowed outdoors at all, she needs to be vaccinated for Rabies. Some countries and states require by law that cats be vaccinated for Rabies, in which case the cat may need to get the shot, even if she is indoor-only.

As with all cat vaccinations, some cats may be more sensitive and possibly susceptible to Vaccine-Associated Sarcoma. Not all Rabies vaccines are made the same, and if you wish to limit the risk of Vaccine-Associated Sarcoma, you should ask your vet about using the a vaccine that doesn’t contain adjuvant.

Rabies in Feral Cats

Rabies shots are part of the standard TNR (Trap-Neuter-Release) protocol. For more information about Rabies and caring for feral cats, please see this page by Alley Cat Allies.

7 comments on “Rabies: What You Need To Know To Protect Your Cat

Anne June 11, 2016
I know. It surprised me as well. In fact, I just started a thread about it, along with a poll, right here -  http://www.thecatsite.com/t/320974/lets-talk-about-rabies-in-cats-is-your-cat-vaccinated
lisabh June 10, 2016
Anne I read what u wrote about cats and rabies- very surprising
Anne June 10, 2016
These laws are local. Some places are good with one year, others with three. It looks like the vaccine is good for three years, potentially longer but no one can vouch for the "longer".   It's really a question of protecting the humans, when it comes to rabies. It's such a dreadful disease that public health experts think it's best to err on the side of caution. Local laws are then set according to local epidemiological considerations. The bottom line is, cats don't get vaccinated as much as dogs do in the US and they do sometimes end up getting rabies. If you look at the 2014 (most recent) report, you'll see that most of the domestic animals found to have rabies were cats, not dogs: http://avmajournals.avma.org/doi/pdfplus/10.2460/javma.248.7.777 
lisabh June 10, 2016
I just got off the phone with my vet about other things and asked about indoor only cats and rabies shots. she said after initial kitten shots a year later get rabies shot its good for 3 yrs. I still don't know why if the cat never goes out and other animals don't visit my house- but they said its the law. I don't get it.
lunariris February 6, 2014
I also don't agree with the extremes of getting rabies vaccines every year, especially for indoor-only pets. I also feel strongly that many sarcomas that develop at the sites of vaccination years later are from build-up of the vaccine that wasn't necessary to re-do in the first place because it's still in their system, but the law gets hyped-up and says to just give them another shot. I also wonder why some pets suspected to have come in contact with a rabid animal or acting aggressively are only quarantined for 10 days, while others are quarantined for as much as 6 months. It's very conflicting, it seems, the knowledge people have of rabies from individual to individual.
Anne December 2, 2013
@drstove please bring up this question in the Health forums - thank you!
drstove January 19, 2013
Years ago dogs and cats required only one rabies shot for life. Today, vets and the law want you to give your pet a rabies vaccine every year. What changed? Why doesn't one rabies shot last a life time like thew used to?

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