Do cats carry rabies?

Rabies is a disease that causes inflammation of the brain. All warm blooded animals can be affected by this viral disease. Rabies is a dreaded disease given the fact that death would invariably result if post prophylaxis treatment is not given before clinical symptoms occur. In humans, rabies is mainly contacted from the bite of a rabid animal. Extensive vaccination programs have totally wiped out rabies in Great Britain, Hawaii, New Zealand, Japan, Australia and the Caribbean Islands. In other countries, rabies remains a concern more so because it is highly possible for humans and for pets to be infected by a wild animal. Skunks, raccoons, bats, foxes are only some of the wild animals that carry rabies. In domestic animals, incidence of rabies is most common in dogs. Cats can carry rabies too. Rabies in cats is rare but it would still be important for a cat parent to know hows and whys of rabies so that preventive measure can be taken to save not only the pet but the family as well from this potentially fatal disease.

The causative agent for rabies is Lyssavirus. A high concentration of the virus is present in the saliva of an infected animal thus the most common mode of transmission is through the bite of a rabid animal. The virus can also get into an open wound or through the mucous membranes of the eyes and the mouth. Although quite uncommon, the virus cam be transmitted through the inhalation of the excretions of infected animals. Infection can also occur through the ingestion of the brain and nerve tissues of carrier animals. Once transmitted, the virus will travel to the brain through the peripheral nerves. Symptoms of infection will show when the virus reached the central nervous system.

Outdoor cats are most likely to get infected with the rabies virus. Infection can occur when cats get into a fight with rabid dogs, rabid stray cats and with wild animals that carry the virus. The virus will enter the cat’s system through the bites or through the open wounds. An infected cat would show the same symptoms shown by rabid dogs. Incubation period varies. This is a slow moving virus. In dogs, it would take 3 to 8 weeks from the time of exposure before the brain is affected. In cats, the incubation period of the virus is between 2 to 6 weeks. Some cats would show clinical symptoms in two weeks after being infected. Others would carry the virus up to 4 years without manifesting clinical symptoms.

Rabies is also known as the mad dog disease. The symptoms rabid cats show is essentially the same as the symptoms shown by rabid dogs. Just like any other affected animals, the cat would go through the prodromal, furious and dumb stages. The prodromal phase is characterized by behavioral change. The cat would show apprehension and nervousness. Cats are known to be independent animals but at this stage, the pet would seek humans and show a more affectionate behavior. Aggressive cats would suddenly become docile. The cat will then enter the furious phase where it will roar wildly and try to bite anything and anyone. In 2 to 4 days after the onset of clinical signs, the cat will enter the dumb or the paralytic phase. The cat would have breathing difficulties and slowly gets paralyzed. This stage will be followed by the death of the cat.

Once clinical symptoms of rabies are shown, treatment would no longer be possible. Cat owners would not only fear for the life of the cat but also for the possibility that the family can be infected by this fatal viral disease. It is therefore very necessary for cat owners to have the pet vaccinated.

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