How do you know if an animal has rabies?

“How do you know if has rabies?” is probably a question asked at school and I think therefore it is worth answering as best I can in this article because sometimes cats are blamed for carrying diseases although there is a misconception here because they are relatively speaking very few incidences of cats transmitting rabies to people. We get this misconception because the online news media tend to write about incidents as they feel they are newsworthy. Vaccination programs in the USA have been very effective in reducing the risk of rabies in domestic cats.

It may be helpful to say that 90% of cats with rabies are under three years old and the majority of these cats are male and furthermore rural cats are at the highest risk for rabies because they are more likely to be exposed to it from wildlife. That sets the background scene which may help, in fact, to answer the question: “how do you know of animal has rabies?”.

Indian farm cat. In India rabies is more common and several thousand people die yearly from it, it is estimated.
Indian farm cat. In India rabies is more common and several thousand people die yearly from it, it is estimated.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

See articles on rabies on this site


The signs and symptoms of rabies are due to inflammation of the brain. This is called encephalitis. At the first stage which lasts up to 3 days the signs are subtle. You might see a personality change. So, for example, an affectionate and sociable cat might become irritable or aggressive and might bite repeatedly at the place where the virus has entered the cat’s body. If a cat is naturally shy and timid, he/she may become overly affectionate.

Quite soon affected animals become withdrawn. They stare into space and they avoid light. They may hide. They may die if they do not have an owner and may not be discovered.

A cat with rabies may show one of two signs of encephalitis beyond the first stage. The most common is a “mad dog” type of rabies. The signs and symptoms last for 2 to 4 days. The cat might suddenly spring up and attack people about the face and neck. The cat soon develops staggering, tremors, muscle twitching, hind leg incoordination and violent convulsions.

In another form of encephalitis caused by rabies, which occurs in about one third of cases, muscles become paralysed. The cat will drool, paw at his mouth and cough. As the symptoms progress the cat loses control of his rear legs and collapses. He is unable to get up. In one to two days the cat dies from respiratory arrest. You may only notice paralysis because the course of the disease is rapid.

I hope this article helps to answer the question, “how do you know if an animal has rabies?” – in relation to the domestic, stray and feral cat.

2 thoughts on “How do you know if an animal has rabies?”

  1. This article is timely. A poster on another blog is awaiting the results of one of her feral cats and if she will have to undergo treatment. The second scenario sounds just like what happened to the cat in question. Although the possibility of the cat being rabid is small rabies in domestic animals is nearly 100% preventable.

    Reply
    • The US has done well in almost eliminating rabies in cats it seems to me. The fear of rabies in cats is greater than the actuality.

      Reply

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