Spotting Rabies Symptoms in Cats

Learning to spot rabies symptoms in cats is a good idea for any cat owner and a must for those who let their cats go outdoors. Rabies is a fatal virus that affects all warm-blooded animals. The virus is contracted from a rabid animal through a bite or when infected saliva passes over an open wound. Feline rabies is preventable, and because small rodents, the animals that cats normally hunt, don't get the rabies virus, cats rarely get rabies.

That doesn't mean cats are immune, because a bite from a bat, a dog or an infected cat will infect your pet. To make sure your cat doesn't get rabies, get a rabies immunization when your cat is about 4 months old, then again once a year or once every 3 years, depending on the type of vaccine your pet has received.

Rabies Is Fatal
The rabies virus travels from the bite site to the spinal cord and eventually to the brain, causing irreparable damage and eventual death. Feline rabies, as with any type of rabies, moves through a two- or three-part process from the bite to the animal's death. Cats often die before exhibiting the third phase of the disease.

Anyone who has been bitten by an animal, whether believed to be rabid or not, should contact their physician immediately. There is a rabies vaccine that can be given to people to prevent the virus from taking hold, but it must be administered within days. One miracle case occurred in 2004 in Ohio. A teenage girl was bitten by a bat but did not seek medical attention. About a month later she started exhibiting classic rabies symptoms. Scrambling against the clock and against all odds, her physician placed her into a medically-induced coma, which allowed her brain to remain idle while her body built up antibodies to the virus. Amazingly, she survived. Since then, however, the same type of medially-induced coma has not worked for others.

Rabies symptoms in cats are easily recognized if you know the cat. If the cat is a stray or feral, you may miss important signs. To be safe, never venture near a cat or other animal you do not know. Even if you know the animal, steer clear of any animal that is behaving strangely and report the behavior to the cat's owner immediately. If the cat is a stray or feral animal, call animal control.

If your cat is exhibiting any of the following signs, it should be quarantined. If the cat has bitten someone and is not acting strange, contact your vet for specific directions. If the animal has not received the rabies vaccine and suddenly acts strange and bites someone, it should be put down and the head examined for signs of rabies.

Rabies Symptoms
Rabies is a three-part virus. During the first phase of the virus, called the prodromal phase, the cat will exhibit noticeable changes in its behavior. While dogs may have subtle behavioral changes, cats often exhibit severe changes.

  • Behavior changes opposite from the cat's normal behavior. A quiet cat may become agitated; an active cat may become extremely shy and hide.
  • Dilated pupils.
  • Snapping at imaginary objects.
  • Uncharacteristic drooling.

During the second stage, called the excitatory phase, the cat may exhibit extreme aggression. This phase may last anywhere from two to three days.

  • Bizarre changes in the cat's eating habits. The cat will eat things that are not edible, such as stones, sticks or anything that will fit into its mouth. It will also gnaw at just about anything.
  • The cat's response to any stimuli is swift and often excessively angry.
  • The tone of the cat's meow changes.
  • The cat growls without reason and attacks anyone who comes near it. Often a cat will exhibit as much or more aggression toward its owner than toward a stranger.
  • The cat roams away from its normal habitat.
  • The cat develops seizures or trembles as if it is cold.

The last stage ends with death. This stage is called the dumb stage, because of the characteristics exhibited by the cat.

  • A cat may act lethargic and depressed.
  • The cat's mouth may hang open.
  • The tongue may protrude as if the cat is thirsty, but it will avoid water.
  • Paralysis will begin to set in, often affecting the hips first, resulting in a shuffling gait.

If your cat exhibits these symptoms, understand that nothing can be done to save it. Quarantine the animal immediately and call animal control to have it removed. Do not attempt to touch the cat; you could contract rabies yourself if you do.

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