Diagnosing Rabies in Cats

Rabies in cats can be easily prevented with a vaccination, and because of that, cases of domestic pets developing rabies are much fewer than they used to be. However, unvaccinated cats can still get the disease, usually contracted by being bitten by an infected animal. The most common cases of rabies are reported in skunks, foxes, coyotes, raccoons and bats, some of which may come in contact with an outdoor cat. Rabies has no cure and almost always ends in death.

Rabies Symptoms

Rabies is a virus that travels through the nerves of the infected animal to the brain. The virus moves slowly, causing an incubation period during which time you will not know if your pet is infected. In cats, this can last two to six weeks. Once the incubation period is complete, a cat will go through some or all of three potential phases.

Prodromal Phase

The prodromal phase is marked by apprehension, anxiety and solitude. The only physical symptoms are a fever, which doesn't occur in all cases, pupil dilation and excessive drooling, but you may also notice your cat excessively licking the bite wound. In cats, the predromal phases lasts only one or two days but causes more erratic behavior changes and fever spikes than it does in dogs. A usually friendly cat may become especially irritable, even aggressive, and an anxious or irritable cat may become friendly and docile.

Furious Phase

Cats are particularly prone to the second phase, referred to as the furious phase, when all the symptoms get increasingly worse. Infected cats become hypersensitive to visual and auditory stimuli, causing them to become more irritable, aggressive and restless. As this gets worse, they may pace and roam, becoming more vicious. Cats will often roar loudly and bite all objects in the house or run wildly throughout the house causing bodily harm by crashing into objects. This progresses into a disoriented state, during which time your cat may have seizures that eventually lead to death.

Paralytic Phase

Cats that survive the furious phase may enter the paralytic phase, also referred to as the dumb phase, which sets in two to four days after the first symptoms. Some cats skip the furious phase and go straight into the paralytic phase. The characteristic foaming of the mouth occurs during the paralytic phase as nerves affecting the head and throat are usually the first to be affected. The salivation is caused by an inability to properly swallow. Facial muscles become paralyzed, and you will hear deep, labored breathing, which in cats sounds like they have something stuck in their throats. An infected cat will eventually go in respiratory failure and die.


Though the distinctive personality changes and physical symptoms are usually easily recognized, especially in pets, the only way to diagnose rabies is through a microscopic examination of the brain.

Prevention is the best treatment for rabies, so keep your cats up-to-date on rabies vaccinations. If you suspect exposure to rabies, take your cat immediately to a veterinarian as the best chance for treatment is a vaccination after exposure and quarantine for 45 days. Most pets infected with rabies die.