Keeping Your Cat Safe From Rabies

March 19, 2010 | By Robin Wallace | Category: Care & Safety | 27 comments
Tags: care & safety, health & wellness

Cats are victims of rabies more than any other domestic pet in the U.S. Know the signs to protect your pet. (Photo by APSCA)

NEW YORK — In a less-than-heartening sign of spring, the New York City Dept. of Health and Hygiene confirmed the city's first case of rabies in a feline for 2010.

The statement was released on March 12, and documents the 69th case of rabies in the five boroughs this year. However, those first 68 cases were all documented in raccoons.

"Since 1992, when raccoon rabies first appeared in NYC, there have been 12 cats that have tested positive for rabies. 10 were strays. There has not been a rabid dog reported in NYC in more than 50 years," the released statement outlined. "There continues to be an outbreak of raccoon rabies in and around Central Park in Manhattan for which a Trap, Vaccinate and Release program has been implemented to help prevent the further spread of the virus."

While the Big Apple might be a long way off from where your pets hang out, this case is a classic illustration of which domestic animals are most at risk: cats. Obviously, any pet that is not vaccinated against the virus is at a higher risk for infection. But because cats are often allowed to roam outdoors, they are more likely to encounter an infected wild animal, or an infected stray dog or cat.

Feral cat colonies remain a reservoir host for the rabies virus, despite widespread vaccination programs, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reports. The ASPCA also points out that rabies is reported in cats more than in any domestic species in the United States.

So what can you do to keep your feline friend, yourself, and your canine companion safe?

1. Avoid contact with wild animals.

2. Make sure your pets — dog or cat — are up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations.

3. Avoid leaving your pets outdoors unattended and feed them inside.

4. Avoid trying to separate animals that are fighting.

5. Contact the vet if your pet has been in contact with an animal that might be rabid.

Rabies is perhaps one of the best-known animal viruses, mostly because of the fear it incites. As there is no cure for the disease, once symptoms appear, it is close to 100 percent fatal. The good news is that being bitten by a rabid animal does not mean the pet will always become infected. Humans, cats, and dogs are only mildly susceptible to the disease, and officials estimate that about 15 percent of exposed people will contract the disease.

If you are a veterinarian or someone who works closely with wildlife or animals, check with your doctor to see if you are considered a "high-risk person" for whom a vaccine is available. But for the rest of us, the most important precautions are: always handle a pet that might have been bitten by a rabid animal with gloves, see your doctor immediately to get a series of vaccines if you do get bitten, and call animal control if you see an animal displaying unusual behavior — such as nocturnal animals out in the day, or animals with unabashed fear of humans.

Officials at the ASPCA also suggest that cat owners become more rabies-aware — citing knowledge as the first step to prevention — and released this information to Zootoo Pet News:

What are the general symptoms of rabies?

Animals will not show signs immediately following exposure to a rabid animal. Symptoms can be varied and can take months to develop. Classic signs of rabies in cats are changes in behavior (including aggression, restlessness and lethargy), increased vocalization, loss of appetite, weakness, disorientation, paralysis, and seizures.

How is rabies diagnosed?

There is no accurate test to diagnose rabies in live animals. The direct fluorescent antibody test is the most accurate test for diagnosis, but it can only be performed after the death of the animal. The rabies virus can incubate in a cat’s body anywhere from just one week to more than a year before becoming active. When the virus does become active, symptoms appear quickly.

What if my cat is up-to-date on vaccines and encounters a rabid animal?

A cat who is up-to-date with his vaccinations and who has been bitten by a possibly rabid animal should also be given a rabies booster vaccine immediately and kept under observation for 45 days.

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Comments (23)

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5 years ago

Even indoor pets are at risk if infected bats have access to the inside of your home.

Good Point | Reply ›


5 years ago

IF you live in an area where rabies may be contracted you should get the vaccine. i looked up the likeliness of an indoor cat getting rabies awhile ago and it was something like a 0.002% chance, dogs would only be slightly higher than than {like maybe 0.008%}.
keep in mind that rabies shots can cause cancer and that although legally dogs should have yearly vaccines, it does much more harm than good. 1-2 vaccinations per lifetime is all that's needed b/c they don't wear off in a year, not even 3.

Good Point | Reply ›

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