Rabies in Cats

Rabies is caused by a single-stranded RNA virus (Lyssavirus) belonging to Rhabdoviridae family. It is a debilitating and lethal disease which involves the Central Nervous System (CNS) that is spread through the saliva and bite of an infected animal.

Rhabdovirus are heat sensitive and can be killed easily by visible or ultraviolet light. It affects a variety of wild animals, domestic animals, mammals, dogs, cats and even humans. Common carriers of rabies include Deer, Foxes, wolf, racoon, badger and bats.

Transmission happens from a bite of an infected animal. Once the virus enters the body, it colonizes the muscular system where it rapidly starts multiplying. It could take anywhere between 2 weeks to 4 weeks. During this period the disease is not contagious. The virus then starts migrating into the spinal cord and the central nervous system (CNS includes all sensory, peripheral and motor nerves) and finally reaches the brain. Once the brain gets infected, the host starts shedding the virus through the salivary glands (infected saliva from the mouth).

Once the brain gets infected, the virus is shed through through the salivary glands / saliva. The affected animal exhibits neurological signs and it always results in death.

All cats are required to get vaccinated. Generally, the juvenile vaccine is given subcutaneously or intramuscular. The adult booster vaccine after 1 year and then repeated every 1–3 years depending on how prevalent rabies is in the geographic region (endemic). It is also known as Canine Rabies.


Rabies is the only disease in both Human and veterinary science which has a 100% mortality rate. It is estimated close to 60,000 humans die every year from Rabies. The World Health Organization (WHO) has made it mandatory for all countries follow the rabies vaccine protocols. All pets have to be given rabies vaccine (kitten vaccination schedules and cat annual boosters). United Nations (UN) and other global epidemic agencies keep coming up campaigns for Rabies from time to time.

To read more on Rabies:

World Rabies Day
United Nations (UN)
World Health Organization: WHO Rabies Factsheet
World Health Organization: WHO


Rabies is caused by Lyssavirus of the Rhabdoviridae family. Transmission happens from a bite (saliva infected with the rabies virus) of an infected animal. Common ways are territorial fights, aggression fights, bites from an infected animal. From natural known carriers such as Deer, Foxes, wolf, racoon, badger and bats and rarely blood transfusions.

Clinical Signs and Symptoms

The incubation period for Rabies is between 2 weeks to 4 weeks. There are 3 stages – prodomal stage, furious stage, paralytic stage. Each stage has different symptoms associated with them.

Stage 1: Prodomal Phase
This is one to two days post exposure. The symptoms are:
› Dilated pupils
› Anorexia (Loss of Appetite)
› Erratic behavior
› Pyrexia (Fever)
› Constant growling
› Licking the bite or wound
› Nervousness
› Headaches
› Ptyalism (Hypersalivation or Drooling)

Behavioral changes are the most noticeable signs during this phase. Temperament changes such as a solitary cat will suddenly demand affection, whereas a loving cat may stay aloof, away from its owner and may even growl.

Stage 2: Furious Phase
This stage occurs starts from the second or the third day. Symptoms are:
› Nervousness
› Anorexia (Loss of Appetite)
› Erratic behavior
› Constant growling
› Dilated pupils
› Anxiety
› Aggression
› Restlessness
› Irritable behavior
› Disorientation
› Hyperalertness (sight and sound)
› Seizures
› Licking the bite or wound

Stage 3: Paralytic or Dumb Phase
The first evident symptoms shown are the paralysis of the jaws. The first phase of this disease is solely comprised of depression. Paralysis of the jaws makes it impossible for the cats to eat. Paralysis starts from the mouth, then extends to the other parts of the body. Cats die within 2 to 3 days of paralysis. The symptoms are:
› Choking
› Dropped jaw
› Dysphagia (Difficult Swallowing)
› Weakness
› Respiratory failure
› Ptyalism (Hypersalivation or Drooling)
› Paralysis of the jaw
› Coma or death

[At any-point you feel or suspect that your dog has rabies, call your veterinarian immediately and explain the symptoms. Aggressive behavior, snapping, attacking anything in its path, seizures can be mistaken as rabies. Your veterinarian will isolate the dog (usually in a locked cage/environment) for a few days to confirm the presence of the virus. Since Rabies is Zoonotic, animals which pose a threat are those in the final phase of this disease – when the virus is excreted in the saliva]


Diagnosing rabies can be very challenging. There is no known definitive diagnostic tests or procedures which confirm the presence of the virus.
Veterinarians will require a complete history of your dog which includes medical history, vaccination records, existing health concerns, current and previous medications, onset of symptoms, diet and exercise routine and any information.
As a protocol, normal routine tests are performed, such as:
› Physical examination
› Complete Blood Count (CBC)

Only a Brain biopsy confirms the presence of the virus – This is performed only when the animal is dead.


There is no treatment for Rabies. It always results in death.
If you suspect an animal having rabies, please inform the public body immediately – so that they can take necessary steps to quarantine the animal.
If you suspect your cat having rabies, contact your veterinarian immediately. Euthanasia is the preferred choice.


Vaccine are the single and the most effective way to prevent rabies. Always check for your cats vaccine records and see to it that all vaccines are up to date. There have been reported cases of pets infected though vaccinated.

If your cat gets bitten by a rabid animal
› Call your veterinarian immediately and explain what happened
› Call your local health department adn explain the situation (if the animal is still at large – they will take appropriate steps to quarantine the animal)
› Do NOT try and capture the animal. There are trained individuals who can do this task.
› Any animal suspected of having rabies will bite anything and everything which poses a threat. It will also exhibit extreme aggressiveness.

› Vaccination is the only and the best way to prevent the virus. Vaccinated pets stand very little chance of contracting the disease.

If a stray or unvaccinated cat, dog, or other animal bites a person
› Call your doctor immediately and follow the instructions. You will get a series of injections in order to protect your health.
› Call your local health department and explain the situation (if the animal is still at large – they will take appropriate steps to quarantine the animal)
› Unvaccinated people should receive post-exposure treatment within 48 hours
› Do not try and capture the animal
› Report the animal to local animal control as soon as possible.

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