Rabies is a deadly disease for felines and humans, as well as many other species of animals. Unfortunately, cats are more likely to become infected with rabies than many other species, particularly those cats that live part or all of their lives outdoors. And when a cat becomes infected with rabies, that cat can also expose people and other pets to the disease.
Rabies can be passed to your cat through contact with infected wildlife. Skunks, raccoons, fox, and bats are commonly implicated. Infected domestic animals can also be a source of exposure to your cat. This may include both dogs and cats. Even larger animals such as horses, cattle, sheep, and pigs can be infected with rabies.
People can be exposed to rabies in many of the same ways. If your cat becomes infected with rabies, he could expose your family members to the disease. In addition, contact with infected wildlife and other infected domestic animals can be a source of exposure for your family.
How can you protect your cat and your family? Here are some suggestions:
- Keep your pets up-to-date on vaccinations. Many communities have laws requiring the vaccination of dogs and cats against rabies.
- House your cat indoors. Indoor cats are very rarely exposed to rabies. Outdoor cats can be exposed even without their owner’s knowledge.
- Do not attempt to handle stray, homeless, or unsupervised pets. Contact your local animal control facility to handle these animals, if necessary.
- Do not attempt to approach or handle wildlife, particularly those species that are likely to carry rabies (skunks, raccoons, foxes, bats, etc.). Be particularly wary of wild animals that are acting in an uncharacteristic manner. For instance, animals that are typically nocturnal by nature may be displaying symptoms of an illness such as rabies when found wandering during daylight hours. Notify your local public health official if such an animal is identified.
- Keep garbage cans tightly covered to avoid attracting unwanted wildlife.
- Do not feed wild animals or stray pets near your home.
- If bitten by an animal of unknown rabies status, clean the wound immediately and thoroughly with soap and water. Contact your physician and/or public health official immediately for further advice.
Remember that the recommendation for an unvaccinated cat that is exposed to rabies is euthanasia. Even if euthanasia can be avoided, quarantine for a period of up to 6 months may be required. Your cat may be removed from your home during the quarantine period to be housed in an approved animal care facility.
Keeping your cat safe from rabies is fortunately fairly easy. Vaccinations against rabies are quite effective. However, in the case of an exposure, even a vaccinated cat may be required to undergo an observation period and/or be revaccinated. Your animal control or public health officer will provide more information in these types of situations. However, you can do yourself and your cat a favor by keeping your cat indoors and up-to-date on vaccinations.
Dr. Lorie Huston