Rabies Virus in Cats
Preventable but Untreatable

The Rabies Virus belongs to the rhabdovirus family and is classified as a lyssavirus.

The virus was identified by Louis Pasteur in the 1880's.

where the virus is found

Rabies is a virus that is found worldwide except for Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Ireland, Scandinavia, Antarctica, Hawaii and Japan.

Cases of rabies in any of the above countries would be due to the illegal importation of infected cats (or other mammals).

It is most prevalent in Africa and Asia.

animals that transmit the virus

The main hosts for this virus include mammals such as:

  • dogs
  • cats
  • bats
  • foxes
  • mongoose
  • skunks
  • raccoons
  • jackals
  • small rodents
  • monkeys

The rabies virus affects both wild and domestic animals.

This is a zoonotic disease, which means that the virus can be transmitted from animals to humans.

interesting facts

We found these statistics on the World Health Organization (WHO) website September 2011:

  • 55,000 + people die of rabies every year
  • 95 % of deaths from rabies occur in rural regions of Africa and Asia
  • 40 % of people who are bitten by rabid animals are under 15 years of age
  • 99 % of rabies deaths are caused by bites from dogs

With statistics like this, it is no wonder that cat vaccination schedules include this as a highly recommended vaccine.

In some countries, the administration of the rabies vaccine is law.

Speak to your veterinarian or local authority to establish what laws exist in your country with regards to the rabies vaccine.

rabies is serious

Rabies is a fatal disease in animals and humans!

It affects the central nervous system and brain, causing encephalitis, paralysis, coma and death!

Rabies is an acute viral encephalomyelitis.

transmission of rabies virus

During fights, cats can contract rabies from bites from dogs and cats infected with rabies.

Cats living outdoors who are allowed to roam may also become infected by wild animal bites.

This virus is found in the saliva of cats infected with rabies.

The virus is transmitted to other animals and humans when the cat bites and the viral-infected saliva enters the wound.

Saliva, and therefore the virus, can also enter the body via existing wounds and abrasions.

It is generally believed that the virus cannot penetrate intact skin.

In very rare cases, rabies can be contracted via inhalation or handling infected material from a cat with the disease.

The virus does not live outside the host for very long - which is good news.

It is believed that the disease can be spread by handling the organs of infected cats during postmortem.

Once the rabies virus enters the body, it will travel via the nerves, to the spinal cord and then to the brain.

From the brain, the virus spreads to the salivary glands and is then excreted in the saliva.

The journey from the initial bite to reaching the brain is slow - it can take anywhere from 2 - 6 weeks.

angry cat

rabies symptoms

The incubation period (i.e. the time is takes from exposure to the disease to the appearance of the first signs) can range from 9 - 51 days.

During the incubation period the cat will be relatively asymptomatic (have no symptoms).

Fever and pain at the site of the bite wound.  (This will be apparent as the cat will lick the area excessively).

Some cats may display some erratic or unusual behavior.

This is known as the prodromal stage and only lasts for a day or two.

Once the rabies virus has spread to the central nervous system and brain, rabies will develop into two forms:

Furious Rabies

Cats with this form of rabies exhibit behavioral changes that include restlessness and excitability.

The cat becomes quite hyperactive and may have a desire to roam.

It will become aggressive and irritable and be hypersensitive to sight and sound.

The cat will glare at other animals and even their beloved owner.

In many cases, friendly cats become aggressive whilst unfriendly cats become tame and quiet.

Frothing or drooling at the mouth is quite common, usually as a result of excess saliva production and paralysis of the esophagus (the cat is unable to swallow).

A sagging jaw, arched back and muscle tremors is commonly observed.

It is during this period that the cat is likely to bite and scratch and infect an unsuspecting animal or human.

The cat will then progress to the paralytic stage and lapse into a coma and die within a few days.

Paralytic Rabies (Dumb rabies)

This form is less common and often goes undiagnosed.

The symptoms here are far less dramatic - the cat is seldom agitated and it generally does not bite.

It may become quite affectionate and purr incessantly. This form of rabies appears to last longer than the furious form.

Sadly, the cat becomes lethargic and weak and as the paralysis rapidly progresses, the cat may hide in a dark place where it will lapse into coma and die.

diagnosis of rabies in cats

Sadly, there are no tests to diagnose rabies.

Diagnosis is normally confirmed at postmortem when the brain tissue is tested and diagnosis is confirmed.

feline rabies treatment

There is NO TREATMENT for rabies virus.

Rabies in cats, dogs and other mammals is fatal.

The cat must be caged and isolated from all other animals and humans until death. (Call in experts to do this - do not approach rabid animals).

Rabid animals will be destroyed (euthanased)

Note: If a human has been bitten by a suspected rabid cat they must seek immediate medical attention.

  • The wound must be washed out with iodine, soap and water or any other disinfectant for at least 15 minutes. (The wound must be flushed).
  • The medical practitioner may administer a vaccination and rabies immunoglobulin.
  • Once symptoms develop the prognosis is poor.

rabies virus prevention | control

Rabies virus is zoonotic (i.e. can be transmitted from animals to humans). 

Understandably, many rabies-free countries have strict quarantine measures for any animals entering their country.

In the United Kingdom for example, all animals from countries with rabies are quarantined for 6 months even if they have previously received a rabies vaccine.

In many countries rabies vaccine is compulsory for all domestic animals and has proved very successful in reducing the occurrence of rabies.

In countries that do not have laws mandating rabies vaccine, the vaccine is listed as highly recommended.

The first rabies virus shot is given at 8 weeks, it is then repeated at 12 weeks, another at 9 months and then annual boosters are required.

If you suspect your cat (or any other animal) of being infected with rabies, report it to the local health authority.  They will have the necessary experience and equipment to be able to handle the cat and place it in complete isolation.

Keep away from rabid cats and dogs - they are unpredictable and a bite could be fatal!

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