Feline Rabies is one of the most serious conditions to potentially afflict a cat. It is caused by the notorious Rabies virus that is responsible for the condition in numerous outdoor animals as well as humans. Transmission is usually through bite of an infected animal and the incubation period normally lasts for a few weeks, though occasionally it may extend to months. Once the symptoms develop, however, there is no cure and the disease in invariably fatal. It is therefore important to be aware of this potentially lethal condition that can easily develop in indoor/outdoor pets.
Even as some regions of the world, including Australia, New Zealand, the British Isles and parts of Scandinavia are free from this deadly virus, Rabies continues to prevail in most places. It is in fact endemic in certain countries. This is largely owing to the widespread presence of the virus in local wildlife around most urban and rural population centers. Animals like foxes, coyotes, feral dogs and cats, skunks, wolves and bats carry the Rabies virus and are frequently the vectors of this illness when it transmits to our house cats, usually through a bite. Once the virus enters the bloodstream it moves to spinal cord and travels across the nervous system to attack brain and cause drastic neurological and behavioral changes in the infected feline.
There are three main phases that cats (as well as other rabid animals) go through once the nervous system is under attack and symptomatology appears. First is the prodromal phase. In this stage the cat begins to show signs of abnormal behavior. There is often fever and the felid is observed licking at the site of the bite. Next is the well known furious phase in which the cat becomes erratic and shows signs of aggression, restlessness and hyperactivity. There may be paralytic attacks in this stage. These attacks become more frequent in the ensuing paralytic phase. During this stage the disease envelops the peripheral nervous system. There is paralysis of nerves that prevents swallowing of even water. Hence the hydrophobia and drooling of saliva. This is the final stage and its onset in an indication that death is imminent. Often there is depression and coma just before the poor animal passes away.
The horror of Rabies is amplified by the fact that often it is completely insidious before signs of the disease appear. Therefore it is hard to diagnose and treat effectively. Once the pathology becomes apparent, there is very little that may be done to save the cat. Owing to the lethality of the virus, it is a standard practice in many places to euthanize cats that are suspected to be rabid. Posthumous study of the infected animal's brain is the conclusive test for definitive diagnosis.
Like Feline Distemper, Feline Rabies is another condition that may be avoided by prompt vaccination of domestic cats. It is also best to keep our pets indoor in order to avoid interaction with disease carrying wild animals. If the cat is not already vaccinated, it is strongly advised to get immediate post-exposure vaccination in case of a wound from a potentially rabid animal. This may prove to be life-saving if the virus has not yet spread. Otherwise there is death within ten days of appearance of clinical signs.