Do cats get rabies?

Rabies is one of the most dreaded infectious diseases. This viral disease that affects the nervous system can have potentially fatal effects if prophylaxis treatment is not administered before symptoms start to appear. Rabies was generally controlled because of extensive vaccination programs. Some countries were even pronounced to be rabies-free. The causative virus attacks the central nervous system of warm blooded animals. This means that humans as well as the common household pets can get infected. Although rare, cats can get rabies.

Rabies was totally eradicated in United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. Infection in domestic animals was largely controlled in other countries due to massive vaccination programs. However, wild animals like bats, skunks, raccoons and foxes are still carriers of the virus. Cats have the propensity to wander. Even well fed companion cats will still hunt if an opportunity is provided. A cat can get rabies if it has eaten an infected prey. Infected animals have the virus in their saliva thus the most common mode of transmission is through a bite. The virus will enter the body through scratches or open wounds. Even if a cat has no open wounds it can still be infected if the saliva of a rabid animal managed to get in contact with the mucus membranes of the mouth and the eyes. This mode of transmission usually happens when the cat fights with a rabid wild animal.

Rabies is a tricky disease. The onset of symptoms would vary. In some cases of infection, symptoms would be seen immediately. In others, the clinical signs will only occur after several weeks or even after several months. The virus that enters the cat’s body would travel through the nerves to enter the brain. In the brain, the virus will rapidly replicate and spread throughout the cat’s body by travelling through the salivary glands. The three stages of rabies will begin once the virus has entered the brain. The prodromal stage is characterized by a total reversal of the cat’s behavior. A loving cat will manifest an aggressive temperament and the once aggressive pet would be affectionate to the owner. If the cat sustained a bite from another animal, it will be seen constantly licking the bite wound. The cat that is drooling excessively will be seen snapping at imaginary objects. The furious stage is the next. The cat will show violent movements. The cat will become dangerous as it will try to bite anything including the owners. Paralytic stage is the last. This stage occurs 2 to 4 days after the onset of symptoms. Paralytic stage invariably results to the death of the cat. The nerves on the head and the throat will be affected. The rabid cat will excessively salivate because of the inability to swallow. Breathing will be difficult because the jaw will lock up. The cat will die from respiratory failure.

There is not treatment for rabies. Once the cat has started manifesting the clinical signs, prophylaxis treatment will be futile. A rabid cat is dangerous. Not only would it infect other pets in the house but it can also transmit the virus to humans. Rabies is a zoonotic disease. Since there is no treatment for rabies, pet owners must focus on prevention and control. Rabies vaccine must be administered to cats 8 to 10 weeks of age. The vaccination must be repeated after a month and yearly thereafter. Unvaccinated cats must be prevented from exploring especially in areas where wild animals abound. Vaccination programs for dogs are mandatory in some communities. However, very few communities require cats to be vaccinated. As such, the incidence of rabies in cats is higher than in dogs. Cats that are current in their vaccinations would still need to be under observation if exposed to rabid animals.