Rabies is an important disease to be aware of, particularly as it is transmissible to humans. It is usually transmitted to cats via a bite wound from another infected animal, but what are the symptoms of rabies in cats? And how long will it take for a cat to show signs of rabies?
What is rabies?
Rabies is a virus that can infect all warm-blooded animals including cats. It attacks the central nervous system including the brain and spinal cord and is ultimately fatal if left untreated. In the U.S., Hawaii is the only state where rabies has not been reported.
Rabies is most frequently found in wild carnivores such as raccoons, foxes, and bats but in Latin America, stray, unvaccinated dogs and cats are the main reservoir for rabies. In the U.S., cats are the most commonly reported domestic animal with rabies.
It is the law in most states for cats to be vaccinated against rabies and this is usually done from about 3 months of age. Speak to your veterinarian for more advice or find a BetterVet veterinarian near you.
How is rabies transmitted?
The virus is shed in the saliva of infected animals and is usually transmitted to another animal via a bite wound. The virus does not survive for long in the environment but can be transmitted if an infected animal’s saliva is introduced into an open wound, for example through licking.
How long will it take for a cat to show signs of rabies?
The appearance of symptoms of rabies in a cat following a bite from an infected animal can vary from 10 days up to a year. The incubation period is the time from when the animal is infected to when the symptoms first appear. The incubation period of rabies in the cat is usually less than it is in a dog. Usually, in a cat, rabies will first manifest within three to eight weeks.
The rate at which signs develop depends on several factors such as:
- The site of infection – the closer the bite is to the brain or spinal cord, the faster the symptoms will manifest.
- How severe the bite is – the worse the bite, the faster symptoms are likely to develop.
- How much virus was present in the saliva of the rabid animal at the time of the bite – rabies virus isn’t always present in the saliva of infected animals.
Death usually occurs within 10 days from the first appearance of rabies symptoms.
What are the signs of rabies?
There are 3 main stages of rabies disease progression and each stage usually only lasts 2-3 days.
1. Prodromal stage
During the first stage of the disease, the cat's temperament will alter from his usual personality. A shy, quiet cat might become lively and more interactive, or a usually active and social cat might hide away.
2. Furious stage
During the second stage, cats usually become restless, irritable, and aggressive. Muscle spasms can affect the cat's ability to swallow and there is often excessive salivation. This is the most dangerous stage whereby other animals or people are most likely to be bitten and become infected.
3. Paralytic stage
This usually occurs about a week to ten days after the first symptoms of rabies are seen. Cats become comatose and ultimately die.
Cats will usually have wide dilated pupils throughout all stages of the disease.
What should I do if my cat is showing signs of rabies?
If you suspect your cat is showing any of the symptoms of rabies then isolate her from all other animals and humans and contact your veterinarian for advice. Some of the early signs such as personality changes can be caused by other factors or illnesses but as rabies is such a serious disease, it is always better to err on the side of caution.
Can my cat be treated once she is showing signs of rabies?
There is no treatment for a cat with rabies. She must be kept isolated to prevent her from injuring another person or animal and transmitting the disease. Veterinarians are required by law to notify the authorities of an animal showing signs of rabies.
Will my cat show signs of rabies if he is vaccinated?
Vaccines are very effective and if your cat is kept up to date, then she will be protected against rabies infection. A rabies vaccine is usually first given to kittens when they are around 3 months old and then again, a year later. After that, rabies vaccination must be given once every three years to ensure your cat is fully protected.
What should I do if I think I’ve had contact with an animal with rabies?
If you suspect you may have had contact with a rabid animal, or have been bitten by an animal that could have rabies, then wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water and contact your doctor immediately for further advice. There is a vaccine that can prevent the development of rabies but it must be given as soon as possible after a bite for it to be effective. If left untreated, rabies in humans is fatal, as it is in cats.
It is important to remember that rabies signs will not manifest immediately after an animal has been bitten by another infected animal. It usually takes a few weeks for the first signs to appear but can take up to a year. Make sure your cat is vaccinated against rabies and receives his booster vaccinations on time. If you think your cat could have been bitten by a rabid animal then isolate him immediately and contact your veterinarian without delay.
How can you tell if a cat has rabies after biting?
Most cats will show signs of neurological disease because the rabies virus affects the central nervous system. The first signs of rabies are usually a sudden change in personality or strange behaviors.
How long can a cat live with rabies?
Most cats will die within 10 days of the first signs of rabies. However, the incubation period after a cat has been bitten could be up to a year without any appearance of rabies signs.
How common is rabies in domestic cats?
Thankfully, rabies in pet cats is rare. This is largely due to the very effective vaccine that is available.