What are Rabies?
Rabies is a viral infection of the central and peripheral nervous system in a feline. Rabies is a zoonotic disease that is found worldwide among carnivores and other mammals. This fatal disease is passed through the saliva of an infected animal with initial signs of a disturbance in the central nervous system. An infected feline will go through three symptomatic phases as the disease surges through the body. The feline will go from displaying a shy behavior to aggressive within ten days, dying after day ten from the initial sign of infection. Almost all infected animals die after being infected with the rabies virus, but a feline could survive if the pet owner takes the cat to seek veterinary consultation before the virus reaches the nervous system.
Rabies is a viral disease that mainly affects carnivores, but can affect all mammals, including people. The rabies virus is actively spread through the saliva of an infected pet, transmittable through bites or scratches. In the United States, wildlife including; raccoons, skunk, fox, and bats are common vectors of the disease. However, stray dogs and cats are also carriers of the disease, as confrontation with wildlife is the norm. Rabies symptoms can appear as early as ten days after the feline was bitten and as late as a year. The virus affects the brain and nervous system, with initial signs of change in behavior. Rabies is a fatal, incurable disease that can easily infect humans if the proper precautions are not taken.
Symptoms of Rabies in Cats
Rabies attacks the brain, resulting in rather distinctive behavioral changes. From the initial sign of a rabies infection, your feline will go through a prodromal stage, a furious rabies or “mad-dog” stage, and finally a paralytic stage. Each of the three stages is characterized by different symptoms, as the virus slowly makes its way to the brain and turns the housecat into a vicious feline.
Stage 1: Prodromal Stage
In the prodromal stage, the feline will change her temperament and become the complete opposite of her normal self. For instance, an active, happy feline will suddenly become shy and nervous. The feline may hide, lose interest in food, and become irritable or suddenly hyperactive. In the wild, a species that are normally nocturnal (sleep during the day) are seen wandering the streets in the daytime and become friendly with people.
Stage 2: Furious Rabies or “Mad-Dog” Stage
In the furious rabies stage, the feline becomes overly aggressive, baring her teeth and claws at the slightest provocation. The feline will be continuously alert with pupils fully dilated. Light, noise and movement will trigger a cat in the second stage of rabies to attack. Furious rabies is often called the “mad-dog” stage because the feline will look like she has gone mad. Continuous drooling, widened eyes, muscle spasms and aggressive behavior are the most prominent signs of stage 2 rabies. Stage 2 rabies is extremely dangerous for humans and it is during this stage that people are commonly infected.
Stage 3: Paralytic Stage
The paralytic stage is noted within seven days after the initial stage of rabies and is characterized by the inability to move the muscles of the jaw or throat. The feline will display obvious symptoms of excessive salivation, cannot swallow, and its level of aggression will stoop into depression. The paralysis will slowly move from the throat and jaw to the remaining portions of the body, resulting in death within a matter of hours.
Causes of Rabies in Cats
Rabies in cats is caused by a bite or scratch to an unvaccinated feline by an infected animal. Carnivores are common vectors of the rabies virus as nature has given these mammals sharp teeth and claws to pierce the skin. Raccoons, bats, skunks, fox, and feral animals are common reserves for this viral disease.
Diagnosis of Rabies in Cats
If your cat has been bitten by an animal that you suspect might carry the rabies virus or is displaying symptoms associated with rabies, but your cat is not displaying these symptoms, he/she will be quarantined for a ten day period. It is important to inform the veterinarian of the state of the animal that bit your cat as immediate treatment may be necessary. The veterinarian will review your feline’s medical record, paying close attention to when her last rabies vaccination was administered. After the 10 day quarantine, the vet will reevaluate the cat and decide if she has been infected.
If your cat is displaying symptoms associated with rabies, the diagnosis can be difficult as early symptoms associated with rabies can be confused with a number of other common feline health concerns. The only true way of diagnosing rabies is by a direct examination of the cat’s brain. The feline will have to be euthanized to perform a post-mortem antibody test using immunofluorescent dyes.
Treatment of Rabies in Cats
If you witnessed a rabid animal bite or scratch your cat, and you brought her into the veterinary clinic immediately, there is a possibility for treatment. Just like in people who have been bitten by a rabid animal, if the virus has not reached the nervous system an anti-rabies vaccine can be administered. The anti-rabies vaccine is a group of antibodies that are injected into the body and encourage the immune system to produce antigens to fight the circulating virus. The anti-rabies virus is not always effective and cannot be given to cats that have bitten a human, as the vaccine can mask rabies symptoms.
Recovery of Rabies in Cats
The majority of cats affected by rabies are euthanized or die on their own, which is why the World Health Association has made rabies a core vaccination. A core vaccination is a vaccine that is required by law to be administered to pets. Vaccinating your cat against the rabies virus and keeping wildlife away from your pet are the only ways you can prevent rabies from infected your feline.
Rabies Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My cat started acting strange about half hour ago. It started off with him biting at my hand while I was petting him. He would try to pull away but still came back to bite me. Not very hard. Later, he awkwardly rested his face in my hand and then snipped at me hand. He stares off into space and keeps licking certain spots on his body. Like chest, supper arm, and feets.
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