Symptoms of Cat Rabies

Reviewed by Vet Clare Deming
hissing cat

The symptoms of cat rabies have three distinct phases. Once a cat has been bitten by a rabid animal, if it has not been vaccinated, it will die.

What Is Rabies?

Rabies is a deadly virus. It affects the central nervous system of the animals and humans infected with it. Generally, the virus spreads throughout the nervous system finally reaching the brain.

Once it reaches the brain of the cat, usually within two to six weeks after exposure, the symptoms develop very quickly. The virus then moves to the salivary glands. Rabies is most often contracted through a bite from an infected animal.

Animals that most often are carriers of the rabies virus are:

  • Skunks
  • Bats
  • Raccoons
  • Fox

Stages and Symptoms of Cat Rabies

Each stage of rabies in cats has certain behaviors and symptoms associated with it. It is important to know and understand the various symptoms of cat rabies so that you can prevent the spread of the disease. The sad fact is that rabies is fatal, but you don't want the infected animal to pass it on to other animals or people. Knowing the classic symptoms of each stage will help you to recognize the disease. If you even suspect that your pet may have rabies, take them to your vet immediately.

Stage One

The first stage of rabies in cats is called the Prodormal phase and lasts for one to two days. Some of the symptoms that become apparent in this phase are:

  • Fever spikes
  • Erratic behavior
  • Temperament changes
  • Excessive drooling
  • Pupil dilation
  • Fly biting, a term used when an animal snaps at objects that are not there
  • Seeking solitude
  • Headaches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Roaring
  • Biting objects
  • Itching at the site of the bite

Remember that temperament changes can be subtle. A cat that has been aloof and independent may suddenly jump into your lap and want to be petted. A cat that has previously been loving may growl and run away from the owner she has been so affectionate to in the past.

Stage Two

The second stage of rabies is called the Furious phase. This stage usually begins on the second or third day. It is during this stage that the cat will behave in an increasingly erratic way. For example it may begin to eat inedible objects like stones or sticks. Other behaviors that may be seen in this stage of rabies are:

  • Wandering around aimlessly
  • Changes in the way the voice sounds
  • Aggressive or violent behavior
  • Irritability
  • Biting itself
  • Disoriented
  • Seizures
  • No fear
  • Growling
  • Trembling
  • Lack of muscle coordination

Stage Three

The third stage of rabies is the Paralytic stage. This phase is also sometimes called the Dumb phase. The cat will become depressed and unresponsive. Other symptoms include:

  • Open mouth and protruding tongue
  • "Foaming" at the mouth
  • Increasing paralysis
  • Weakness
  • Labored breathing
  • Choking
  • Respiratory failure
  • Coma
  • Death

Rabies Vaccine

Rabies can be controlled. If your cat receives a rabies vaccine on a regular schedule, she won't be nearly as susceptible to rabies. The vaccine is usually given when your cat is about three months old and then every year or so afterward. How often it is given depends on the type of vaccine used, so check with your vet. Even if your pet is vaccinated, however, she should be seen by a vet immediately if you suspect exposure to rabies. A booster vaccine and short period of observation will follow to make sure that she hasn't been infected.

If your pet or another animal seems to have any symptoms of cat rabies, it is important that you use caution in your interactions with it. A cat that is in the first phase of the disease can suddenly turn from docile to dangerous. A bite from an infected animal is all it takes to infect you.

Symptoms of Cat Rabies