Rabies disease in cats

Feline rabies is a serious disease caused by the notorious rabies virus that is responsible for the condition in numerous outdoor animals and humans. Transmission is usually through the bite of an infected animal and the incubation period usually lasts a few weeks, although it can sometimes extend to months. However, once symptoms develop, there is no cure and the disease is invariably fatal. Therefore, it is important to be aware of this potentially lethal condition that can easily develop in indoor or outdoor pets.

Although some regions of the world, including Australia, New Zealand, the British Isles, and parts of Scandinavia, are free of this deadly virus, rabies continues to be prevalent in most places. In fact, it is endemic in certain countries. This is largely due to the widespread presence of the virus in local wildlife around most urban and rural population centers. Animals such as foxes, coyotes, wild dogs and cats, skunks, wolves and bats are carriers of the Rabies virus and are frequently the vectors of this disease when it is transmitted to our domestic cats, usually through a bite. Once the virus enters the bloodstream, it moves into the spinal cord and travels through the nervous system to attack the brain and cause drastic neurological and behavioral changes in the infected feline.

There are three main phases that cats (as well as other rabid animals) go through once the nervous system is under attack and symptoms appear. The first is the prodromal phase. At this stage the cat begins to show signs of abnormal behavior. There is often a fever and the cat is seen licking the bite site. Then comes the familiar furious phase in which the cat becomes erratic and shows signs of aggression, restlessness and hyperactivity. There may be paralytic seizures at this stage. These attacks become more frequent in the subsequent paralytic phase. During this stage the disease involves the peripheral nervous system. There is paralysis of the nerves that prevents even swallowing water. Hence the hydrophobia and drooling of saliva. This is the final stage and its beginning in an indication that death is imminent. Often there is depression and he eats just before the poor animal dies.

The horror of rabies is amplified by the fact that it is often completely insidious before signs of disease appear. Therefore, it is difficult to diagnose and treat effectively. Once the pathology becomes apparent, there is little that can be done to save the cat. Due to the lethality of the virus, it is standard practice in many places to euthanize cats suspected of having rabies. The posthumous study of the brain of the infected animal is the conclusive test for the definitive diagnosis.

Therefore, it is important to get promptly vaccinated against feline rabies. Even if an unvaccinated cat has been exposed to the virus, it is imperative that the cat be vaccinated immediately. Because if the disease hasn’t spread yet, there’s a chance your pet will survive!

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