Rabies in cats. Should you be concerned?

Rabies is a fatal but preventable viral disease that is mostly found in wild animals such as bats, raccoons, skunks, and foxes in the USA and can spread to people and pets if they are bitten or scratched by a rabid animal. However, in many other countries dogs still carry rabies, and most rabies deaths in people around the world are caused by dog bites.

Thankfully, rabies virus is no longer a major threat in the United States and cases of human rabies in the USA are rare. Rabies vaccination of dogs is the only companion animal vaccine required by law in most (but not all) states and the institution of mandatory dog vaccination programs has halted the natural spread of rabies among domestic dogs in the USA.

However, our cats are also at risk and cats are now the most commonly reported rabid domestic animal in the United States. While the numbers of confirmed rabies cases in cats are still low, with around 250 cats reported rabid each year, nearly all these animals were unvaccinated and acquired rabies from wildlife (such as bats, raccoons, and skunks).

Signs and Diagnosis of Rabies

Most rabid animals show signs of central nervous system disturbance. The most reliable indicators are sudden and severe behavioral changes and unexplained paralysis that worsens over time.

The furious form of rabies is the classic “mad-dog” syndrome, although it is seen in all species. The animal becomes irritable and may viciously and aggressively use its teeth and claws with the slightest provocation. Rabid cats can attack suddenly, biting and scratching viciously. As the disease progresses, seizures and lack of muscle coordination are common and death is caused by progressive paralysis.

Why Is The Rabies Vaccine Important For Cats?

The World Health Organization (WHO) has strict guidelines to control rabies in domestic animals, which include notification of suspected cases and euthanasia of animals with signs of the disease and those bitten by suspected rabid animals.

Euthanasia is required because it is impossible to diagnose rabies in living animals as the tests require brain tissue samples from two parts of the brain that can only be extracted during a post-mortem procedure.

However, rabies is entirely preventable through vaccination.

What About Indoor Cats?

You may ask why you should vaccinate an indoor cat? Although the risk of an indoor cat becoming exposed to an infected wild animal is small, indoor cats can sometimes escape and wildlife could find a way into your home.

Bats frequently sneak into our homes, coming down chimneys and exploring attics and what cat could resist?! Bats are known to trigger the hunting instinct in cats, which means your cat is more likely to chase and attempt to catch or play with a bat. Racoons are also known to make their way into attics, putting your indoor cat at risk.

Speak To Your Vet

There are a number of different brands of rabies vaccines for cats available on the market and different vaccination protocols associated with each. The best first step to protect your cat is to talk to your veterinarian as they will be able to advise you on the best option for you and your cat.

In short, rabies vaccines for cats are very important, regardless of whether your cat goes outside or not. To ensure your cat is never at risk for rabies, the best decision you can make is to get them vaccinated

This article was vet approved by Tom Farrington MRCVS., MVB., VetMFHom. Chief Veterinary Medical Advisor for HomeoPet. Tom has been practicing veterinarian in Ireland for over 35 years and employs complementary therapies in a multi discipline approach to healing medicine. Tom is an honors veterinarian, holds advanced degrees in homeopathic medicine, lectures internationally and leads clinical research teams.

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