Rabies is one of the many serious diseases that cause fear and worry to fur parents. And, once its symptoms start to show up, it is almost never possible to save an infected cat from dying. Additionally, rabies can be transmitted from animals to humans. Hence, there are several good reasons why every cat owner must seriously consider vaccinating their cats.
If you suspect that one of your furry friends has been exposed to this disease, you will definitely want to know what to look out for, and might find yourself wondering – will a cat with rabies eat and drink?
The answer is yes – rabid cats will still eat and drink like normal. Rabies symptoms do not usually show up in the early stage of the infection. However, once the virus has reached the central nervous system, behavioral changes will start to appear and you might then notice the cat’s sudden avoidance of drinking and eating.
So, what are the other symptoms of rabies that you should look out for? Read on to understand how the disease progresses and what changes you should expect.
How do cats contract rabies?
Rabies is a preventable disease caused by a virus and spread through the bite of a rabid animal. The virus attacks the central nervous system of the infected animal, causing inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. The vast majority of rabies carriers are wild animals, including foxes, raccoons, bats, skunks, and feral cats. However, domesticated pets might also contract the disease if they are exposed to these animals outdoors.
The rabies virus is transmitted via the saliva of the rabid animal. So, if your cat frequently goes outdoors and comes into contact with an infected animal, the virus can enter through your pet’s mucus membranes or open wounds.
Unfortunately, the early signs of rabies can be challenging to detect. More often than not, the symptoms can take weeks or months to show. And, once they do, an infected cat is less likely to survive the disease. Humans can also contract rabies from an infected animal, making it all the more important to keep your pet’s vaccinations up to date.
Will a cat with rabies eat and drink?
Rabid cats can experience a wide range of symptoms, depending on how long they have been carrying the rabies virus.
During the early stage of the disease, an infected cat might not show any obvious signs of rabies. It will live its life like normal – eating, drinking, playing, and doing other activities that it always has.
However, as the disease progresses, common rabies symptoms might start to appear one by one and affect your cat’s daily activities. For example, the cat will begin to experience throat spasms which cause pain and difficulty swallowing. The rabid cat will then start to avoid eating and drinking. At this point, the virus has already reached the brain, which is the final stage of infection.
Rabies and dehydration
If the rabies has started to affect the throat muscles, the cat will altogether avoid drinking water due to the pain and difficulty swallowing, even if it feels thirsty. Although this is not the main symptom of rabies, an infected cat will likely experience dehydration, worsening its overall health. Aside from the fear of water, infected cats will also start showing other symptoms such as fever, diarrhea, vomiting, lethargy, and seizures. Unfortunately, most cats die within hours after the onset of these symptoms.
Effects of rabies on a cat’s body
The effects of rabies on cats do not show up instantly. The viral disease requires a lengthy incubation period which might be weeks or up to a year. However, when the symptoms start to appear, the rabid cat might only have a few days left to live. Rabies has no treatment, so vaccination and keeping your cats away from wild animals are the only proven ways to combat the disease.
The rabies virus attacks the cat’s nervous system and affects a wide range of bodily functions. Some of the awful side effects include behavioral problems, brain disorders, and muscular spasms or paralysis. An infected cat will experience seizures and will not be able to control its body parts. In most cases, a rabid cat will struggle with throat paralysis which inhibits it from drinking water or eating.
Due to these neurological disorders, a cat might also experience disorientation, confusion, depression, and excessive fear. Most rabid cats will also develop an unusual fear of water in addition to pain and swallowing difficulties.
What are the first signs of rabies in a cat?
As mentioned, rabies symptoms do not generally show up in their early stages of the infection. So, if you notice bite wounds on your cat, you must take it to the veterinary clinic right away for proper treatment. Additionally, if your cat has had close contact with stray cats, dogs, or wildlife such as raccoons and skunks, make sure to contact your vet right away.
The symptoms of rabies in cats are divided into three different stages, as follows:
1. The prodromal stage
At this stage, the infected cat will typically show behavioral changes that last for two to three days. For example, a social cat might suddenly become shy or fearful. Some cats might also become active or confident all of a sudden, even if they are normally shy.
However, not all cats will show significant changes in their behavior and personalities. Others might only display mild behavioral changes, making it more challenging to identify a rabies infection.
2. The furious stage
The next stage of the disease is where most cats tend to show extreme aggression for no apparent reason. Infected cats might appear restless and agitated, and might also start attacking people and other pets without provocation. These symptoms might last between one to seven days and sometimes overlap with the other stages of the disease.
Aside from the extreme behavioral changes, a rabid cat will also begin to show loss of balance, incoordination, extreme sensitivity to touch, and seizures.
3. The paralytic stage
This is the final stage of the rabies infection, wherein the infected cat will experience muscle paralysis, particularly around the neck, chest, larynx, and head. Since the throat muscles are also affected, the cat will no longer be able to swallow or vocalize. Due to extreme dehydration, excessive salivation and foaming of the mouth will become evident.
As the cat loses control over its muscles, the breathing functions of its chest will also be impaired. The paralytic stage usually lasts between two to four days. Ultimately, the paralysis will lead to death.
Ways to prevent rabies infections
As mentioned, there are no available treatments for cats infected with rabies. Your best shield against this fatal disease is to have your pets routinely vaccinated. Knowing all the dangers of rabies for both humans and animals, many states have implemented a law for the vaccination of all household pets.
Preventative measures should be taken when handling strays, ferals, and wild animals. It is also best to keep your pets indoors if you have wild animals in your neighborhood, to ensure their safety.
Lastly, never hesitate to call your local animal control if you suspect cats or other animals in your neighborhood are infected with rabies.
Rabies is a life-threatening disease for cats. So, if you know your cat has been exposed to wildlife or other stray animals in your neighborhood, make sure to contact your vet right away.
Keep in mind that rabies symptoms might not always be apparent until the later stages of the disease. Hence, it is possible for a rabid cat to drink and eat during the earlier stages of infection. However, when the disease reaches its final stage, the cat will no longer eat or drink due to throat paralysis. As the rabies progresses, other symptoms will also start to show up until the cat weakens and dies.
Thankfully, your pets do not have to endure all of this. Just make sure that your cat’s vaccinations are up to date and that you take the necessary preventative measures to protect your furry family members from this deadly virus.
Image: istockphoto.com / TomIraci