VCA Animal Hospitals

How do I know if my cat has rabies?

Published: Jul 06, 2012

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Rabies in cats is not as widespread of a problem as some might initially believe. Just about everyone knows what rabies is, but the number of reported cases each year is quite low. Still, pet owners need to be on the lookout for the deadly disease and know all the clinical signs that correspond with it.

There is no cure for rabies, and the disease is typically fatal once it takes hold. This perhaps explains why the disease is so well-known. However, there is an effective vaccine for rabies. This important shot is included in all kitten vaccines, and is typically administered when the cat is three to four months old.

Preventing rabies is as simple as ensuring the kitten gets the vaccine. Be sure to talk with your veterinarian about a re-vaccination schedule. Some states have laws in place for when pet owners should return to their vet to get another vaccine.

With the rabies vaccination so effective, most of the encounters with the disease involve strays or wild animals. In North America, foxes, raccoons, bats and skunks present the most danger to you and your pets. Rabies is zoonotic, meaning it can be transferred to humans. Be careful if you encounter an animal that you suspect has rabies, and call animal control immediately.

Cats infected with rabies will show numerous clinical signs that should be relatively easy to spot. The initial stage of the disease will cause a marked change in normal cat behavior. Shy cats will become aggressive, while extroverted felines will suddenly become quiet and nervous.

The second stage is what most people think of when they hear "rabies." This includes excessive saliva and drooling in the mouth, possibly appearing foamy. The animal will turn vicious and will likely attack other animals in the area. Muscle spasms are also common in this stage. In the final stage, the animal becomes paralyzed and typically dies shortly thereafter.

Rabies can be a scary concept, but by being a responsible pet owner and knowing all the signs, you can reduce the risk of the disease for you and your pet to almost zero. 

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