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Cat Rabies Problems

Updated on May 8, 2021
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HGlick has rescued and placed stray cats for over 20 years and has personally fostered more than 10 during that time.


Cat rabies problems usually occur when they are bitten by an infected dog, cat, skunk, fox, raccoon, or any other wild or domestic animal. Rabies is a fatal disease that is found in nearly all warm-blooded animals, although rarely among rodents. Any wild animal that allows you to approach it without running away from you is acting abnormally, and rabies should be suspected. Do not approach, pet, fondle or give aid to such an animal.

The virus, which is present in infected saliva, most commonly enters at the site of the bite. Wild or domestic animals suspected of having rabies should be handled with great care or not at all.

The incubation period is 14 to 60 days. The virus travels to the brain along with nerve networks. The further the bite is from the brain, the longer the incubation period. The virus then travels back along the nerves to the mouth where it enters the saliva.

Signs and symptoms of cat rabies are due to a swelling of the brain called encephalitis. The initial signs are very subtle and consist of personality changes. Aggressive cats become more friendly and docile and overly affectionate. Shy and less outgoing cats become increasingly irritable or aggressive. Soon the cat becomes more withdrawn and stares aimlessly into space. He avoids light, which hurts his eyes, and eventually resists handling. Fever, vomiting, and diarrhea are common.

There are two common forms of encephalitis. One is the aptly named "furious" form and the other is the "paralytic" form. Cat rabies may show a combination of both forms, but the more common is the furious form.

The furious form is the "mad dog" type of rabies. It lasts one to four days. Here, the cat will become frenzied and vicious, attacking anything that moves. The teeth are exposed due to the muscles of the face entering a form of spasm. While running free, he shows no fear and snaps and bites at any animal in his path.

In the paralytic form which is more common in the dog than the cat, the swallowing muscles become paralyzed, which may cause drooling, coughing spells, and pawing at the mouth. As encephalitis progresses, the cat will lose control of his rear legs, collapse, and will not be able to get up. Death will occur in one to two days. Cat rabies has a more rapid course. For this reason, paralysis may be the only sign noted.

If there is any sign that a cat is rabid, and there has been any sort of human contact, impound it at once. This holds true, even if it has been vaccinated for rabies. Depending upon the nature of the exposure, the victim may have to undergo a series of injections (either antirabies serum or rabies vaccine, or both). These injections must be started at once, but can be stopped if the animal remains healthy.

The emergency treatment for any animal bite involves thorough washing of the wound with soap or detergent. Flush it repeatedly, using copious amounts of water, and apply a tincture of iodine.

There is no effective treatment for cat rabies problems. To protect your cat's health be sure it is vaccinated at three to six months of age and repeat annually. It is important that cats be vaccinated only by a qualified professional. To be effective, the vaccine must be given in the proper location; it must be kept refrigerated; it must not be out of date it must be intended specifically for use in cats. (other vaccines may actually produce the disease) Furthermore, a veterinarian can provide legal proof of vaccination, should the need arise.

References: The Cat Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook by Delbert G. Carlson, D.V.M and James M. Giffin, M.D.

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