USA – Cats – Rabies. A discussion

Raccoon being vaccinated against rabies. Photo US Dept of Agriculture.
Raccoon being vaccinated against rabies. Photo of raccoon by US Dept of Agriculture. Photo of tag by davedehetre.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

If a cat has rabies blame people, not the cat.

In the USA, people who like to criticize domestic, stray and feral cats often raise the topic of rabies. They say all domestic cats should be kept inside and all stray and feral cats should be exterminated. In support of their argument they say that stray and feral cats are sometimes rabid, which causes alarm amongst people. These comments damage the image of the cat but the sad fact is that rabies in cats is on the rise (we are told²). I’d like to see if I can put some balance back into the argument.

General Background

Curbing and controlling rabies

Is it fair to say that the federal and state governments, of America, could do more to prevent and even extinguish rabies in the USA? I fully understand that it is more difficult to control rabies in a large country such as the USA which is not an island. The UK’s success in eradicating rabies is in part because it is an island nation.

Yet, looking at Europe one discovers that Germany has been declared rabies free since 2008, as has Belgium. The Netherlands has been rabies free since 1923. These countries are connected by land to other European countries. A comparable state in the USA would be, for example, Virginia where there were 572 cases of rabies in 2009. None of the US states are rabies free. Clearly there is more to consider in respect of preventative measures than simply being surrounded by water.

Subject to a decent counter argument I have to conclude that the US could do more to control rabies. This is about people, not cats.

Historical Stuff

We are told that rabies was rare in the northern states of the US but since the 1970s there has been a rabies epidemic amongst raccoons in those states. The reason? Hunters who transported infected raccoons from the south to the north. The actions of people exacerbated the rabies problem in the USA.


Between 1980 and 1997 there were 22 documented cases of rabies amongst people. Of these 19 were caused by bats (86%). That puts some perspective into the cat rabies discussion.

Lists of posts about Rabies on PoC

Rabies – Dogs versus Cats

Cats are 3.7 times more likely to be rabid than dogs (81 dogs versus 300 cats in USA in 2009)². Why is this? There are two obvious reasons and both are exclusively to do with….you guessed it, people.

Vaccinations – visits to vet

Although there are a similar number of cats and dogs in the USA (74m cats to 70m dogs¹), people with dogs take their companion animal to the vet far more frequently than do cat owners and they spend far more money than cat owners.

  • dog vet visits: 2.6 per year (2012)
  • cat vet visits: 1.6 per year (2012)
  • dog vet expenditure per dog per year (2012): $227
  • cat vet expenditure per cat per year (2012): $90
  • **36% of USA cat-owning households did not visit a veterinarian in 2006¹**.

The figures suggest that cat owners care less about their cat’s health than dog owner’s do about their dog’s health. This almost certainly translates to an occasional failure to vaccinate against rabies. Once again the cause of increased rabies amongst cats is people and irresponsible cat caretaking.

I presume rabies vaccinations for companion animals is obligatory in the USA, on a state by state basis, but the obligation is not properly enforced. When a cat is taken across the state border there should be a rabies vaccination certificate but this doesn’t stop cats contracting rabies in the state where they live.

The lack of a complete vaccination program for cats is compounded by cat caretakers letting their unvaccinated cats roam free where they can contract the disease from the wild cat species reservoir.


Admittedly, it is tough to control rabies in the USA but I sense more can be done to control it at various levels and in various ways and this is in the hands of people. The rabid cat is the messenger of irresponsible cat ownership.

If cat haters and people who dislike cats want to criticize an animal they should direct it at the human species.


  1. AVMA
  2. CDC

12 thoughts on “USA – Cats – Rabies. A discussion”

  1. Great article. This is an interesting post to read, I really learned from this. BTW, if anyone needs to fill out a Rabies Vaccine Certificate, I found a blank form here This site PDFfiller also has some tutorials how to fill it out and a few related forms that you might find useful.

  2. Adopting any cat that’s been taken from outdoors is just playing Russian Roulette.

    Even vaccinating your cat against rabies won’t prevent it from finding the nearest rabid bat dying on the ground to rip it to shreds for its daily cat’s play-toy. Then bringing back a mouthful or claws full of fresh rabies virus to you, your family, neighbors, other pets, or other animals. ANY cat allowed to play outdoors can transmit rabies to others, vaccinated or not.

    • ANY cat allowed to play outdoors can transmit rabies to others,..

      This is incorrect because a cat allowed to play outdoors under controlled and supervised conditions is safe from getting rabies and transmitting it. You’re scaremongering. But I agree that people can do more. But don’t attack the messenger. The cat that gets rabies is a victim.

      • Note: this is a summarised and rewritten comment from Woody (MoreThanWikiEducated is Woody). I have done this because he makes a point worth addressing but can’t express himself without being abusive. Sad really.

        You can’t supervise cats outside sufficiently to ensure that they don’t make contact with any half-alive rabid bat that has tried to find a place to hide and die.

  3. It becomes even more difficult when TNR advocates are so ignorant as to not realize that if a cat already has rabies then just vaccinating it against rabies does not cure it of rabies. That cat will go on to infect other cats, animals, and humans during its lifetime until rabies kills it. This is why wild-harvested cats are now being adopted direct from shelters in the USA. Even shelter directors and their Community-College educated veterinarians are just as ignorant to the national and international laws that are in place to guard against rabies being spread. Google for (one example of hundreds): Rabid Cat Adopted Wake County.

    Any animal that is taken from the wild and intended for ANY sector of the pet-trade, and without knowing its vaccination history (if any) MUST, BY LAW, be quarantined for a MINIMUM of six months to be relatively certain that that animal is not harboring rabies. This is why all pets are quarantined at international borders for this duration, papers or not. The incubation period for rabies averages from 21 to 240 days (some cases as much as 11 months, and one rare case being 6 years). If an animal is not quarantined for that period of time, then the ONLY other way to be certain if a cat (or other animal) has rabies is to destroy it for the test. This is why TNR colonies in the USA have caused massive rabies outbreaks in some communities. Google (for one example, again of hundreds): Rabies Outbreak Carlsbad NM TNR. Where over 50 well-cared-for pets and all feral cats were destroyed, hundreds of livestock destroyed, and all people in the area of that cat-colony had to pay for their own $3000+ rabies shots, each.

    Please do get your heads out of those dark recesses where you’ve been keeping them and do a little bit to educate yourselves. Unless of course, you just don’t care about any humans or any other lives on this planet and only care more about your cats suffering to death from getting rabies.

    • Please do get your heads out of those dark recesses where you’ve been keeping them

      Who is that addressed to 😉 I guess it is addressed to everyone who is unaware of the possibility of rabies. Although I thank you for your comment, I think you are being a little over the top seeing as there were only 300 cases of cat rabies in 2009 out of about 160 million cats in all in the USA (domestic, stray and feral combined). That is

      0.000187% of the total.

      It would be better and a more effective use of time if you had addressed how people can better manage it. I feel you are attacking the cat again when as I said the problem is about people.

      • Note: this is a summarised and rewritten comment from Woody (MoreThanWikiEducated is Woody). I have done this because he makes a point worth addressing but can’t do it without being rude and insulting.

        The CDC can only report confirmed rabies cases. This means only those cases where the antibodies developed in the human blood before the vaccine for rabies is given or after a human has died from rabies and the brain tissue was examined for the virus. If they try to detect the antibodies for rabies after a person received the required shot regimen, they have no way of knowing if the person developed the rabies’ antibodies from a cat’s rabies virus, or from the required rabies shots after a cat scratch or cat bite. So it cannot be a “confirmed” cat-to-human transmitted rabies case if any rabies vaccines were given to the human.

        There are literally hundreds of thousands of cases EVERY YEAR where people are required to get rabies vaccines from contact with suspected rabid cats, and even more necessary if that cat cannot be trapped and quarantined to watch if it dies from rabies or have it destroyed for the test.

        So those piddly 300 cat cases are just the tip of the iceberg.

        • If the number of cases of rabies in cats and people is massively under-reported as you claim, isn’t this a human failure and doesn’t that support my argument that it is people who should be blamed and not the cat?

  4. Rabies vaccination is mandated by every US state; however, it’s the enforcement that’s at issue as your article suggests. In our state, every shelter gives the full inoculation series to dogs and cats as legally mandated – including a one-year rabies vax. Most shelters include deworming and microchipping too. We go over the importance of rabies’ shots with adopters and even tell them if they go to their vet prior to the rabies’ expiry date, the vet will give them a 3-year shot. Once they leave the shelter, though, there’s no way to know if they follow through. When a cat is brought to a boarding facility, the facility is legally mandated to get a copy of the cat’s current medical history. Current rabies’ shot MUST be in the file or the cat is refused entry, or the facility gets permission to vax the cat. Even the TNR people humanely trap cats who are then spayed/neutered, given shots to include rabies. Our state also has an annual rabies’ clinic – very low-cost rabies’ shots given to cats brought in to a designated location. The economy being what it is, local government is too strapped to enforce that law when there are criminals afoot. Sad but true.

  5. When I brought Lilly to Switzerland she had to have had a rabies vaccination within one month of entry to the country. They checked her passort going first through Austria and then into Switzerland they again read her passport to see that she had recently been vaccinated against rabies. They are pretty strict about that here I guess. I’ve never heard of any case of rabies anywhere in Europe. I personally was vaccinated against rabies at the tropical disease hospital near Kings Cross in London before I went to Asia. In Ontario where I lived there was an incredibly low rate of rabies as I remember and thats’ just over the border to the US. I may be wrong but I think so. I am not sure about the rest of Canada.

    You have more chance of being hit by car than getting rabies from a cat or any animal. Trying to say cats are bad because they can spread rabies is more of a desperate argument I guess. Like the Toxoplasmosis argument. They are both arguments that are valid but no way near strong enough to make it necessary to exterminate or lock cats inside. There is just such a small amount of it that the argument is only really valid in terms of trying to solve the problem with vaccinations and control but it is a tiny speck of a reason to get rid of cats – a joke really. I suppose they should get rid of bats too and raccoons. Humans seem to think they can and should control these things which they clearly can’t do without making more of a mess than anything.


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