Rabies is a very serious, almost always fatal, viral disease that affects the nervous system. It affects all mammals, including dogs, cats, ferrets, and humans. Rabies spreads through the saliva of infected animals, and there is no cure.
Rabies is one of the world’s deadliest zoonotic diseases. Zoonotic means that it can be transmitted from animals to humans.
The UK has been determined to be rabies-free since the early 20th century.
What causes rabies in cats?
Rabies is a viral infection present worldwide that affects all mammals, including dogs, cats, and humans.
- It spreads through infected saliva. Most commonly through bites from infected animals. It also spreads through scratches, open sores, and mucous membranes such as the gums.
- The virus attacks the brain and spinal cord.
- Cats start showing symptoms of the disease on average from 2 weeks to 8 weeks after infection. Though it can be from 10 days to several years. This can depend on the location of the bite and how much infected saliva it contains.
- It is present worldwide, especially in Asia and Africa, and causes many deaths in those countries.
- Common wildlife carriers of rabies abroad include raccoons, foxes, skunks, bats, and mongooses.
Rabies is extremely rare in the UK.
- Even though it is rare, rabies is a notifiable disease. This means it is the law to report cases to government authorities.
- The last recorded case in a pet outside of quarantine was in a dog in 1969. This pet was from abroad.
- All human cases in the UK since 1902 have been from abroad, except one from a bat in 2002. These have been mostly through dog bites.
- Some bats in the UK can carry a form of the rabies virus. Transmission from bats to humans in the UK is extremely unlikely. There was only 1 recorded case in 2002, and the individual was a bat handler. However, it’s recommended to avoid touching bats, even if they are not alive.
Symptoms of rabies in cats
Early signs include
- Low energy, fever, and reduced appetite
- Sudden behaviour changes. Shy cats become bolder, and active cats become nervous or anxious.
- Voice changes
Symptoms of the next stage include
- Aggressive behaviour towards humans, other animals, or objects
- Difficulty swallowing and foaming at the mouth
- Weak muscles and incoordination
- Difficulty breathing
- Paralysis, seizures, and death
Are some cats at more risk of rabies than others?
Currently, the UK is rabies-free. It is extremely unlikely in cats unless they have travelled abroad and had exposure to an infected animal.
Pets coming to the UK need a vaccination against rabies. If not, they cannot enter or will be in quarantine for up to 6 months. Some pets may also need titre testing. This depends on where they come from. This information is available on the UK government website.
Is my family at risk of catching rabies?
- Human rabies is very rare in the UK.
- Rabies can spread from infected animals to humans. You may be at risk if bitten or scratched by a mammal in a country that has rabies or a bat in the UK.
- There is a human vaccine available for those at risk.
- It is usually spread by a bite from an infected animal. It is also transmitted through scratches, open wounds, and mucous membranes such as the gums.
- If you have had a bite from an infected animal, wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water and seek medical help immediately.
- There are no documented cases of rabies passing between people.
How is rabies diagnosed in cats?
What’s the treatment for rabies in cats?
- Unfortunately, there is no cure for rabies in cats, and it is most often fatal.
- If rabies is suspected, cats need to stay in strict isolation.
- Humans can survive the disease if it’s caught and treated early.
Tips on how to prevent rabies in cats
- The most effective way to prevent rabies is through vaccination. Rabies vaccines are usually low-cost and last from 1 to 3 years.
- Rabies vaccinations for dogs, cats, and ferrets are safe and effective.
- Vaccination is usually only necessary if your pet is going to travel abroad.
- Any pets leaving or entering the UK need a vaccination against rabies.
- When abroad, try to minimise the risk of exposure by keeping your cat indoors.
- Do not allow your cat to play with bats, even if the bat is not alive. Infected bats can pass rabies onto pets, but it is extremely rare.
When to worry
When to worry about rabies
If you suspect your pet has been exposed to rabies, contact your closest veterinary practice and the Animal Health Service (https://www.gov.uk/guidance/contact-apha) immediately.
Contact your local vet practice
- If you are planning on travelling abroad and want to know more information about the requirements for your pets. This needs to be organised well in advance, don’t leave it until the last minute.
- If your pet shows any sudden changes in behaviour.
Joii can help if you have any general questions about rabies in cats.