A cat with rabies has no symptoms that can be seen at transmission. But after incubation, abnormalities will gradually appear, such as evidently changed behavior, aggressiveness such as biting and striking out, excessive salivation and paralysis that results in death. By the time you see such signs, it's usually too late to stop. Timely vaccinations will keep your cat from ever experiencing rabies, even if he's bit by a rabid animal.
Rabies Viral Disease
Rabies is a viral disease that affects the spinal cord and brain. It is most often transmitted via bite, but cats can contract rabies if their mucous membranes or open wounds are exposed to the saliva of an infected animal. Almost all cases of rabies in domestic pets come from contact with wildlife such as skunks, foxes, bats and raccoons -- the No. 1 vector -- if not from infected pets, strays or ferals who themselves were bit or otherwise infected.
After rabies infection occurs, an incubation period occurs. The period varies and depends on the amount of the virus transmitted and location of the bite. No outward signs are noticeable during the incubation period, which in most cases lasts between one month and three months but can last less than a week or for years. During the incubation period, the cat cannot transmit the disease. Not all humans or animals become infected, but after symptoms are evident, the disease is usually fatal.
Rabies Phases and Symptoms
The prodromal phase is when the virus replicates in a cat's body and starts to infect the nervous system. A cat will behave opposite of his normal behavior. For example, a quiet, shy cat will become aggressive and a cat who normally sleeps indoors at night will sleep more in the daytime.
The second phase is labeled furious, as a cat exhibits extremely aggressive and irritable behavior. A cat may attack and bite anyone or any other animal that comes near him. Excessive saliva is produced in this stage. This is the point when a cat should be euthanized to prevent passive the deadly disease to other animals or humans.
The dumb phase or paralytic phase is the final phase of rabies, when paralysis occurs in the jaw and in the lower extremities. A cat loses his ability to chew or swallow and has an uneven gait that leads to falls from which he can't rise. Death follows quickly after these symptoms present. Your vet will advise you on compassionate care and euthanasia.
If you have any indication that your cat has contracted rabies, immediately report it to your local health officer. If a stray animal or wild animal bit your cat, report it also so the infected animal may be located and removed from wandering at large, infecting other animals or people.
All cats need the core vaccines that include rabies, whether they stay indoors at all times or venture outdoors. The first vaccine is at 12 or 16 weeks of age, then at 1 year old and every one to three years thereafter for life, according to the type of vaccine your veterinarian uses and your states regulations.