How often do cats transmit rabies to people in the USA?

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tell us that there has been no confirmed cases of rabies transmission from cats (domestic, stray or feral) in over 45 years. There have been two cases of rabies in humans acquired from cats since 1960 in the US.

Raccoon being vaccinated against rabies
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Raccoon being vaccinated against rabies. Photo US Dept of Agriculture.


The chart below tells us that bats are the main transmitter followed by dogs in which the infection was acquired outside the US. Raccoons are the next most common transmitter (acquired in the USA).

Reported cats infected with rabies in the US numbered 241 in 2018 down from 276 the year before. Of cats tested for rabies, 1.1% were positive which is the same as for the previous five years, also according to CDC. This means that if there are 100 reports of rabid cats only one is actually rabid.

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If I am not mistaken this statistic also means that 99 of the cats in this 100 were needlessly killed by the authorities as the only way to test for rabies in cats is to kill the animal and dissect the brain. “Rabies can only be diagnosed by direct examination of the brain” – VCA Animal Hospital.

This seems to mean that when an American citizen reports to the authorities that they think a cat in the community is rabid they are signing that cat’s death warrant even if they are perfectly healthy. And here is the rub: it only takes a cat to be aggressive towards a person for someone to claim the cat is rabid even if the cat was provoked or is feral and scared. This is because the authorities have to play safe and trap the animal, kill it and dissect it.


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Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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