Rabies Vaccination for Cats

Although not as commonly administered as the canine rabies vaccine, feline rabies vaccinations offer cats protection against the deadly virus. The rising incidence of rabies in cats presents a nationwide health threat in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the incidence of cat rabies cases in the United States rose 12 percent from 2007 to 2008, while cases of dog rabies dropped 18 percent.

Why Vaccinate a Cat for Rabies?

Rabies is an incurable disease that both cats and people can catch. The disease is transmitted in the saliva of an infected animal, and it spreads to a cat's brain and salivary glands. Rabies also damages the cat's central nervous system.

The disease goes through three stages: prodromal, furious and paralytic. It ends with the cat's death. Signs of the prodromal stage include fever, anxiety and nervousness. Signs of the furious stage include restlessness, irritability and seizures. Signs of the paralytic stage include drooling, weakness and facial paralysis. Not all infected animals will show all three stages of the disease, and cats are most likely to develop the furious stage.

While most cats are indoor-only pets, they should also receive the rabies vaccination to protect them in the event they run away from home and are exposed to wild animals, such as skunks, raccoons, foxes, coyotes or bats, that may carry the virus.

If an unvaccinated cat is exposed to rabies, she will likely be euthanized immediately. If her owner is unwilling to do this, the cat will be kept in strict isolation for six months and monitored for clinical signs of rabies. If she does not develop the disease, she will be vaccinated a month prior to her release. No universal protocol is in place to determine the fate of cats whose vaccinations are not current, but cats with current vaccinations are monitored for 45 days to determine whether they will develop rabies.

When Should a Cat Be Vaccinated?

Kittens receive a rabies vaccination as part of their core vaccine group (feline calicivirus, feline herpes virus and feline distemper) when they are between 8 and 12 weeks old. A booster dose of vaccine is administered a year later, and follow-up dosages are given every two to three years after that.

Adult cats without a clear vaccination history should receive a rabies vaccination with a follow-up dosage given a year later.

Side Effects

Although most vaccines are adminstered safely, there are still some risks to your cat, including:

  • Appetite loss
  • Injection site swelling
  • Kidney damage
  • Lethargy
  • Liver damage
  • Loss of motor skills
  • Seizures
  • Tissue damage

Some of these side effects can occur more than a month after your cat receives her shot. If your cat experiences any of these side effects from a rabies vaccination, contact your veterinarian's office.