Rabies is a viral disease that affects the nervous system of warm-blooded animals, including dogs and cats. The causative agent is a single-stranded RNA virus of the genus Lyssavirus, that belongs to the family Rhabdoviridae.
After entering the body, the virus replicates in the muscle cells and then, pervades the peripheral, sensory, and the motor nerves. The virus then passes into the nerve fluid, and reaches the central nervous system. The disease can prove fatal, once the virus reaches the brain. Rabies can easily spread from the bite of an infected animal or pet to humans, in which case the affected individual is treated with post-exposure vaccination and antibody injections.
Causes of Feline Rabies
The single-stranded RNA virus that causes rabies, is generally contracted from the bite of an infected animal. The virus is usually present in the saliva of the infected animal. In rare cases, the infection is known to spread by the ingestion of an infected animal as well.
The animals that are more likely to carry the rabies virus are fox, raccoon, bat, wolf, jackal, and mongoose. Sometimes, aerosolization can be a cause of rabies infection, though the virus generally does not survive outside the host for a long time. Aerosolization usually occurs in caves infested with a large number of rabies-infected bats, and so, other animals like cats may get infected by breathing in the air escaped from such places.
When the rabies virus enters the body through any of the above-mentioned ways, it starts replicating rapidly in the muscle cells. The virus then enters the nerve fluid and ultimately, reaches the central nervous system or the brain. After reaching the brain, it moves to the salivary gland. It may take some time to develop the infection after the initial exposure to the virus. This time period is called 'incubation period', which is usually 2 to 12 weeks.
Signs and Symptoms
A cat can go through three stages after being infected with rabies. These stages are known as prodromal, furious, and the paralytic or dumb phase. Each phase has some specific signs and symptoms, and an infected cat can go through one or all of these phases.
The prodromal phase is characterized by the symptoms like nervousness, anxiety, and fever. The animal may exhibit behavioral changes. For example, a friendly cat may become irritable, while an aggressive one can become gentle. The affected cat can be observed to lick or scratch the site of the bite frequently. This phase usually does not last long. So, within a few days, the infected cat enters the furious phase.
As the name suggests, the furious phase is characterized by more erratic, aggressive, or restless behavior. The cat may become over-responsive to both auditory and visual stimuli. As a result, the animal can roar loudly and start biting objects, along with exhibiting violent and uncoordinated movements. Seizures and disorientation are also common in this phase.
Some infected cats can experience the paralytic phase directly after the prodromal phase, without going through the furious phase. In the paralytic phase, the nerves and the muscles, mainly of the face and the neck can get paralyzed. The affected animal can be observed to salivate excessively, and its breathing may seem labored. The cat may not be able to swallow food due to mandibular paralysis. A choking sound, along with a drooping jaw and a protruding tongue are some other common signs that can be observed in this phase. Eventually, the infected cat becomes very weak due to paralysis. Finally, the infection causes respiratory failure, which results in coma and then death.
Diagnosis and Treatment
This viral infection can be quite difficult to diagnose at times, as the infected cat may not exhibit any of the classic signs and symptoms of rabies in the early stage. The usual practice is to examine the brain tissues under a microscope. Skin and blood tests are also carried out occasionally.
There is no cure for rabies, once the animal gets infected. Rarely, some dogs have been reported to survive after being infected with the virus. So, vaccination is always is the best preventive measure to protect your pet from this fatal disease. Cats are usually vaccinated against the disease at the age of three or four months, and then again at one year.
After a year, the three-year vaccination program is suggested. However, many veterinarians suggest a yearly or two-yearly vaccination program. Recent studies have observed that the incidence of rabies are more in cats than dogs. This may be due to the fact that only a small number of cats are vaccinated against the disease.
To prevent feline rabies, you should try to keep your pets away from wild animals. If you observe any bite or scratch of unknown origin on their body, then report it to a veterinarian or an animal control officer as soon as possible. Above all, consult your veterinarian about the rabies shots available for cats, as the incidence of rabies in vaccinated animals is quite rare.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of a veterinarian.