Diagnosing Feline Rabies

Diagnosing feline rabies is not easy. Though symptoms of rabies are well-known, cats infected with the disease are dangerous to handle, so a definitive diagnosis is difficult to obtain.

Symptoms of Feline Rabies

Instances of rabies have greatly decreased in the United States because of effective vaccination programs for domestic animals. However, some indoor/outdoor cats are at risk if they haven't been vaccinated.

Rabies is contracted from an infected animal, usually through a bite, since it is passed through saliva. Average time of incubation is two to six weeks in cats after which the cat can show one, two or all of the three phases of a rabies infection.

The first phase, or prodromal phase, which usually lasts only one or two days, is characterized by behavior changes and possibly a fever. Cats that are usually docile may become irritable and aggressive while cats that are usually stand-offish may become affectionate. Cats also may show signs of apprehension and anxiety or seek solitude.

At the end of the prodromal phase, your cat's fever will likely spike, and the second phase, known as the furious phase, kicks in. Cats are likely to develop the furious phase, which results in your cat becoming more irritable, restless, hypersensitive to audial and visual stimulus and even vicious. This phase can progress to complete disorientation, seizures and even death.

If your cat survives the furious state, he will then succumb to the final phase, or paralytic phase. Two to four days after the first symptoms appear, the paralytic phase begins to cause the body to shut down. Facial nerves and muscles begin to become paralyzed, preventing your cat from properly swallowing and causing the well-known foaming of the mouth. During this phase, your cat will eventually die from respiratory failure.

Diagnosis of Feline Rabies

While skin and blood tests are being researched to definitely determine rabies in a live pet, the only way to currently diagnose rabies is post-mortem. Because rabies is transmitted through saliva, veterinarians and technicians handling rabid cats are at extreme risk of contracting the disease when trying to test an animal who is becoming increasingly vicious.

If an unvaccinated cat exhibiting the above symptoms is brought in to a veterinary clinic, rabies will be suspected but not diagnosed until after the cat has died. After death, samples of brain tissue or salivary glands are sent to a laboratory to be examined.

There is no cure for rabies, even if diagnosed properly before death. Occasionally, cats suspected of exposure to rabies can be vaccinated post-infection and quarantined for 45 days to see if rabies develops. This is successful in some cases, but if the disease sets in, there is nothing more your veterinarian can do.

Prevention is the best way to treat rabies since vaccinations are readily available to everyone in the country and completely effective if given as directed.

If you suspect your cat has been exposed to rabies, immediately consult your veterinarian. If you have an unvaccinated cat, take him to the veterinarian for his vaccination as soon as possible.