Rabies is an important disease to be aware of, particularly as it is transmissible to humans. It is usually transmitted to cats via a bite wound from another infected animal, but what are the symptoms of rabies in cats? And how long will it take for a cat to show signs of rabies?

In this blog, we will address common questions about rabies and provide valuable insights into this potentially fatal infection.

Key Takeaways:

  • Rabies is a viral disease that affects the nervous system and has a high fatality rate.
  • While rare in cats due to vaccination efforts, cats can contract rabies if bitten by an infected animal.
  • If you suspect your cat has been bitten by a rabid animal, isolate the cat and contact your veterinarian immediately.

What Is Rabies? 

Rabies is a viral disease that affects the nervous system, with a high fatality rate. The virus is transmitted through bites or infected saliva entering open wounds or mucous membranes. Once the virus reaches the brain, death usually occurs within 10 days from the first appearance of symptoms.

How Is Rabies Transmitted?

Rabies is typically transmitted through bite wounds from infected animals. The virus can also be transmitted if infected saliva enters an open wound. While the virus doesn't survive long in the environment, contact through licking can still pose a risk.

Can Cats Get Rabies?

Rabies in cats is extremely rare. While cats can contract the disease if bitten by an infected animal, thanks to widespread vaccination efforts and control measures, the incidence of rabies in domestic cats has significantly decreased. Vaccinating your cat against rabies and minimizing exposure to wildlife can help prevent this rare occurrence.

Rabies Symptoms in Cats

Rabies is a serious and potentially fatal disease that can affect cats. Often the most reliable signs are changes in behavior, aggression, drooling, and loss of muscle control. Knowing how to recognize the signs and symptoms of rabies in cats is essential for early detection and prompt treatment. Here's a list further explaining these symptoms:

Changes in behavior

If your cat is usually calm and you notice that they are becoming increasingly excitable or agitated, it may be a sign of rabies. They may start acting strangely or unpredictably, such as hiding in unusual places or acting out of character.

Aggression toward humans or other animals

One of the hallmark symptoms of rabies in cats is aggression. They may become extremely irritable and attack people or other animals without provocation. If you notice that your cat is acting aggressively or violently, it's important to seek veterinary attention immediately.

Excessive drooling

Rabies can affect the muscles in a cat's mouth and throat, making it difficult for them to swallow. As a result, they may start drooling excessively or frothing at the mouth.

Loss of muscle control

As the disease progresses, a cat with rabies may experience a loss of muscle control. This can result in tremors, convulsions, and even paralysis. If you notice that your cat is having difficulty moving or seems weak and unsteady on their feet, it's important to seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.

How Long Will It Take for a Cat to Show Signs of Rabies?

The appearance of symptoms of rabies in a cat following a bite from an infected animal can vary from 10 days up to a year. The incubation period is the time from when the animal is infected to when the symptoms first appear.

The incubation period of rabies in a cat is usually less than it is in a dog. Usually, on average, in a cat, rabies will first manifest in around two months.

The rate at which signs develop depends on several factors such as:
  • The site of infection – the closer the bite is to the brain or spinal cord, the faster the symptoms will manifest.
  • How severe the bite is – the worse the bite, the faster symptoms are likely to develop.
  • How much virus was present in the saliva of the rabid animal at the time of the bite – rabies virus isn’t always present in the saliva of infected animals.

Death usually occurs within 10 days from the first appearance of rabies symptoms.

Stages of Rabies Progression

There are 3 main stages of rabies disease progression, and each stage usually only lasts 2-3 days.

1. Prodromal stage

During the first stage of the disease, the cat's temperament will alter from his usual personality. A shy, quiet cat might become lively and more interactive, or a usually active and social cat might hide away.

2. Furious stage

During the second stage, cats usually become restless, irritable, and aggressive. Muscle spasms can affect the cat's ability to swallow, and there is often excessive salivation. This is the most dangerous stage whereby other animals or people are most likely to be bitten and become infected.

3. Paralytic stage

This usually occurs about a week to ten days after the first symptoms of rabies are seen. Cats become comatose and ultimately die.

Cats will usually have wide dilated pupils throughout all stages of the disease.

Rabies in Cats Treatment

There is no treatment available for cats with rabies. Managing the disease focuses on preventing its spread. Suspected cases should be reported to a veterinarian and local health authorities. Euthanasia is often necessary to prevent further transmission.

How to Prevent Rabies in Cats

To prevent rabies in cats, it's crucial to visit your veterinarian regularly and keep your cat's rabies vaccinations up-to-date. Regular veterinary check-ups ensure early detection of any potential issues and allow for timely vaccination. Additionally, keeping your cat indoors and avoiding contact with wildlife can minimize the risk of exposure to the virus. 

By taking these preventive measures and staying proactive with veterinary care, you can help safeguard your cat's health and reduce the risk of rabies infection.


It is important to remember that rabies signs will not manifest immediately after an animal has been bitten by another infected animal. It usually takes a few weeks for the first signs to appear but can take up to a year. 

Make sure your cat is vaccinated against rabies and receives his booster vaccinations on time. If you think your cat could have been bitten by a rabid animal, then isolate him immediately and contact your veterinarian without delay.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the vaccination schedule for rabies in cats? 

Cats need a rabies vaccine around four months of age. The rabies vaccine is then boosted exactly one year later. After this, the vaccine can be given annually or triennially, depending on your veterinarian’s preference or your state’s recommendations. Always ask a veterinarian if you are unsure if your cat is overdue for vaccinations. 

What are the first signs of rabies in a cat?

The first signs of rabies in a cat may be subtle and can include changes in behavior, such as irritability, anxiety, and restlessness. As the disease progresses, other symptoms may appear, such as aggression, disorientation, uncharacteristic vocalization, and difficulty swallowing.

Other signs of rabies can include excessive salivation, paralysis, and seizures. It is essential to note that these symptoms may also suggest the presence of other health problems. 

How long can a cat live with rabies?

Without prompt treatment, the survival time for a cat with rabies is typically only a few days to a week. There is currently no cure known for rabies in cats once symptoms manifest. That's why it's important to take precautionary measures such as vaccinating your cat and avoiding contact with wildlife that may carry the disease. If you believe your cat may have been exposed to rabies, seek veterinary care immediately to minimize the risk of transmission.

What is the incubation period for rabies in cats?

The incubation period for rabies in cats can vary, ranging from two weeks to several months or even years. The average incubation period is around two months. During this time, cats infected with the rabies virus may not show any symptoms. It is important to seek medical attention immediately if you suspect your cat has been exposed to the rabies virus.

Can an 8-week-old kitten have rabies?

Yes, but it is very unlikely that a kitten would have rabies. It would have had to be bitten by a rabid animal, and, given the size of a kitten and the probable ferocity of the attack by a rabid animal, the chance that it would survive that attack long enough to develop rabies is very low.

What should I do if my cat is showing signs of rabies?

If you suspect your cat is showing any of the symptoms of rabies, then isolate her from all other animals and humans and contact your veterinarian for advice. Some of the early signs, such as personality changes, can be caused by other factors or illnesses, but as rabies is such a serious disease, it is always better to err on the side of caution.

Can my cat be treated once they are showing signs of rabies?

There is no treatment for a cat with rabies. She must be kept isolated to prevent her from injuring another person or animal and transmitting the disease. Veterinarians are required by law to notify the authorities of an animal showing signs of rabies.

Will my cat show signs of rabies if they are vaccinated?

Vaccines are very effective, and if your cat is kept up to date, then she will be protected against rabies infection. A rabies vaccine is usually first given to kittens when they are around 3 months old and then again a year later. After that, rabies vaccination must be given once every three years to ensure your cat is fully protected.

What should I do if I think I’ve had contact with an animal with rabies?

If you suspect you may have had contact with a rabid animal, or have been bitten by an animal that could have rabies, then wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water and contact your doctor immediately for further advice. There is a vaccine that can prevent the development of rabies, but it must be given as soon as possible after a bite for it to be effective. If left untreated, rabies in humans is fatal, as it is in cats.