Skip to main content

Watch out for these telltale signs of rabies in cats: What every pet parent needs to know

How to protect yourself and your cat against the rabies virus

Rabies is zoonotic, which means it’s transmissible to humans. Rabies is a terrifying viral disease, and it’s essential to be aware of how it spreads and its symptoms, especially when you have pets. Cats can absolutely get rabies if they’re not vaccinated, and that transmission can occur if a rabid animal bites your cat.

Unfortunately, there’s no treatment for pets, but a vaccine can offer protection. Familiarizing yourself with the signs of rabies in cats can help you quickly spot if something is amiss with a cat you encounter, so you know to be sure to keep your distance.

Angry cat hissing with open mouth

What is rabies?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), rabies is a virus typically transmitted when an infected animal bites a human or another animal. Usually, these animals are wild, unvaccinated animals. Rabies is progressive and affects the central nervous system, eventually resulting in death.

Cats can get rabies if an infected animal bites them. Once a cat is infected, it can pass rabies on to you if it bites you. While there’s no cure for rabies, there is an easy way to protect your cat: Keep his rabies vaccination up to date.

Orange cat with an open mouth
Didgeman / Pixabay

What does rabies in cats look like?

A rabid cat may exhibit unusual behavior changes and distinct physical symptoms. These are the things to watch out for.

  • Atypical behavior. An infected cat may become less affectionate or unusually agitated and excited. You might also notice increased aggression.
  • Drooling or foaming around the mouth. As rabies progresses, it affects the muscles around a cat’s mouth, which can result in drooling or foaming.
  • Paralysis. In the late stages of the infection, cats can experience paralysis and eventually slip into a coma before they die.

How common is rabies in cats?

Rabies in cats is somewhat rare, but it’s still important to be aware of the symptoms just in case you ever encounter a rabid cat. The CDC says that about 250 rabid cats are reported each year. Almost all those cats are unvaccinated and contracted rabies after contact with wildlife, such as raccoons and skunks.

How long does it take rabies to show up in cats?

In cats, rabies has an incubation period that can range from two weeks to several months, if not years. There isn’t a way to test a live animal for rabies; the only available test requires a sample from the brain of a dead animal.

Angry cat with dilated pupils hissing
Image used with permission by copyright holder

What to do if your cat is bitten

Call your veterinarian immediately if you know that an animal has bitten your cat. Your vet will likely clean the wound and booster your cat’s rabies vaccine to increase his protection against the virus. If your cat hasn’t previously been vaccinated against rabies but is known to have been bitten by a rabid animal, your vet might recommend euthanizing your cat or quarantining him for months to make sure that he hasn’t contracted the disease.

A bite doesn’t always transmit rabies, since the virus isn’t always present in the saliva. However, if your cat starts to exhibit symptoms, it’s almost certain that he will die. Your vet will probably favor euthanizing your cat to prevent his suffering and to keep the people in your home safe.

If an animal that might be rabid bites you, it’s important to wash the wound right away and call your doctor immediately. Chances are your doctor will recommend postexposure prophylaxis, including a series of rabies vaccinations.

Anxious cat crouched under a piece of furniture
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Keep all your pets up to date on vaccinations

Most states require pet owners to have their cats and dogs vaccinated against rabies. Regulations vary, so check with your veterinarian. In addition, many boarding and grooming facilities require animals to be vaccinated.

Rabies vaccines are both safe and effective, and there is no chance of your cat contracting rabies as a result of receiving them. Although mild side effects like lethargy and loss of appetite sometimes occur, these are typically brief.

Vaccines are essential to keep your cat safe and healthy. Talk with your vet if you’re having trouble affording your cat’s rabies vaccination. Financial assistance may be available, and many animal shelters offer free rabies vaccination clinics to the community.

Editors' Recommendations

Paige Cerulli
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Paige's work has appeared in American Veterinarian, Business Insider, Healthline, and more. When she's not writing, Paige…
How to cat-proof your balcony before the unthinkable happens
Tips to keep your kitty safe while on the balcony
Cat sitting on a sunny balcony railing

It's tempting to spend some time outside with your cat whenever the weather is nice, and taking your cat outside can give him a nice break from indoor-only life. If you love to spend time on your balcony, it's natural to consider letting your cat join you, but balconies can be dangerous for cats. In addition to the potential for a fall, balconies have several other risks that you might not be aware of. Understanding how to cat-proof a balcony can help you to make the space safer, so you and your cat can spend a little time outside together.

Will a cat jump off a balcony?
Balconies can be very dangerous for cats because of the possibility of "high-rise syndrome." Always Compassionate Veterinary Care explains that high-rise syndrome refers to the occurrence of cats falling out of high-rise buildings and needing veterinary treatment. The term originates when the Animal Medical Center in New York City treated more than 100 cats who fell out of high-rise windows. That occurred during just five months in the 1980s and highlights the fact that cats can and do fall out of high structures.

Read more
How to tell if your cat is a Maine Coon mix (and why you should care)
Should you consider a Maine Coon mix? Here's what you need to know
Closeup of a Maine Coon's face

There are plenty of big and fluffy cats out there, but one of the best-known breeds fitting this description is the Maine Coon. These cats are not only impressive in size, but they also tend to have fantastic personalities that make them beloved family pets. While purebred Maine Coons are a little more uncommon in rescues and shelters, it's possible to adopt a Maine Coon mix that still has some of the breed's distinctive characteristics.

While telling exactly which breeds your cat is can be a little tricky, it's worth doing some investigative work to better understand your feline's background and what that might mean for the care he needs during his life.
Where do Maine Coon cats come from?
You may have heard that the Maine Coon Cate originated from a fantastical cross between a feline and a raccoon. Of course, this didn't really happen, but it could be where they get the name. (Another option, from a ship's captain who brought the first of these kitties ashore.)

Read more
There’s a totally normal reason cats throw up after eating grass – here’s why
Learn about this cat behavior and if there's cause for concern
Calico cat lying on its back in a grassy yard

If your cat throws up after eating grass, there's probably no reason to be concerned. Eating grass is a natural behavior for most cats, and throwing up after eating that grass also is pretty common. There are physical reasons for why your cat throws up grass, and aside from dealing with the inconvenience of having to clean up cat vomit in the house, this behavior usually isn't a problem.

But excessive vomiting and unusual grass consumption can be a cause for concern. If your cat likes to munch grass, then it's best to familiarize yourself with what's normal and what might be a reason to worry.

Read more