When we hear the word rabies, we usually associate it with mad dogs foaming at the mouth. However, cat rabies does exist and, more alarming, domestic felines have become the foremost carrier of the virus in the United States.
What Is Cat Rabies?
Rabies is caused by a virus from the Lyssavirus genus, which is characterized by a helical symmetry. When the virus enters the body of a warm-blooded mammal, such as a cat, it causes acute inflammation of the brain and sadly, in most cases, death.
Who Is At Risk?
Individuals who work closely with cats like park rangers, veterinarians and even travelers are at the highest risk of exposure to the rabies virus. Although pet owners are not included in the high-risk population, it does not necessarily mean that measures against infection can be disregarded. Indeed, the risks of exposure to the virus may be very low but it exists, nevertheless, and protective measures must be made.
How Is Rabies Transmitted?
Just as in other cases of mammals, cat rabies is transmitted almost always through the bite of the infected feline to a non-infected animal or human. It can also be that the transmission is from one feline to another. The virus is shed at high levels in the saliva, thus, its main transmission mode of biting the non-infected animal.
It must be noted that the rabies virus will not live for a very long time outside of the host’s body. If it is inside the carcass of an infected animal, the virus remains viable for less than 24 hours after the death of the host. Thus, handling an infected animal known to have died from a rabies infection must be done carefully to lessen the risks coming from exposure.
What Are Its Symptoms?
The rabies virus infects the brain by using the path of the peripheral nerves as its carrier, so to speak. Its incubation period varies from one case to the next especially as the virus moves slowly although it is common for cats to exhibit symptoms within the 2 to 6 weeks window. Humans, however, will manifest symptoms in 3 to 8 weeks after the virus has found its way to the brain albeit there are reported cases of 2 years incubation period.
There are three phases of the infection with the virus – prodromal, furious and paralytic. Keep in mind that not every infected animal goes through all of the phases but one thing is sure – all of them will be dead within 10 days after the virus has attacked the central nervous system.
The symptoms progress from flu-like symptoms to severe signs like slight to partial paralysis and cerebral dysfunction; Cat Stress and Anxiety, insomnia and Cat Aggression; paranoia, hallucination and delirium; and the classic sign of hydrophobia.
What Are the Treatment Options?
Unfortunately, there is no treatment for rabies, be it in humans or in cats. Although anti-rabies injections after infection are available for humans, these have not been effectively proven in animals. In fact, the feline must be euthanized to lessen the risk of transmission to other animals and humans.
Fortunately, vaccinations against rabies are available for cats. Ask your veterinarian about it and, in so doing, help in lessening the incidence of cat rabies.