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Protect Your Cat, Yourself and Other Animals With Just One Vaccine

Every year around 59,000 people die from rabies, over one person every ten minutes. Rabies is 100% preventable and prevention starts with the animal owner.”1

This quote is from materials provided by the Global Alliance for Rabies Control for World Rabies Day observed annually on September 28. And before you think this is a distant problem in third-world countries, there are areas in the US where affordable veterinary care to provide both a rabies vaccine and spay and neuter for population control among pets isn’t available and rabies is a danger.2

Rabies may also seem to be a matter of wildlife but only a century ago in the U.S. it was definitely a matter of cats and dogs. The first vaccine came in 1885 in France and improved in 1908, though it was initially used as a treatment and not a preventative.3 As recently as 1960 the majority of reported rabies cases were in domestic animals, mostly dogs.4 Because of stringent rabies vaccination laws in this country we’ve managed to keep it at bay in our closest animal companions. It’s the reason why a rabies vaccine is both part of the core vaccine protocol to protect the health of your cat and why most states in the US require unbroken rabies vaccination coverage to protect humans and other animals. 

About rabies

Rabies is a contagious viral disease termed zoonotic because it is one of the diseases which can spread from animals to humans with just one bite from an infected animal. Nearly any mammal can contract rabies. The rabies incubation period is typically three to eight weeks after the bite and infected animals can only transmit the virus when clinical symptoms are present. Once symptoms appear the animal or human usually dies within 10 days. The only way to test for rabies is by examination of the brain tissue of a dead animal. There is no way to test for rabies infection in a live animal.

Rabies and cats

Occasionally you’ll hear of at least one cat or kitten in a community found to be rabid. It’s very sad that tiny kittens are roaming outdoors, and even more tragic that they die a horrible death to the rabies virus. 

This is one reason you’ll see low-cost rabies clinics offered within communities for cats and dogs by shelters and rescue groups. It’s also why a rabies vaccine is part of the protocol in trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs for community cats. Stray cats and community cats are often under attack for spreading rabies, though a 2019 CDC study of human rabies exposures and deaths doesn’t even mention cats of any stripe as a species of concern.5

Rabies and your cat

The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) recommended a rabies vaccination protocol in their 2020 Feline Vaccination Guidelines: 

“Kittens should be first vaccinated at 12 weeks/3 months of age. Regardless of the age at first vaccination, a booster should be administered 1 year later. Booster products should not be used more frequently than the labeled duration of immunity.”

The guidelines also state that cats with a history of injection-site sarcoma believed to be associated with a rabies vaccine should not be revaccinated.6

Because rabies seems like such a distant threat cat owners often object to the need for a rabies vaccine, or don’t take their state’s regulations seriously. A strictly indoor cat may not seem to be at a high risk for rabies, but if your cat escaped or if a rabid bat entered the house your cat would be at risk. Adventure cats walking on leashes and hiking the woods are seen all over, and cats also visit groomers, are boarded or who travel, and all should have a current rabies vaccine. If your cat bites a human and you don’t have a current rabies certificate your cat will need to be quarantined for a period of time in most states.

Talk to your veterinarian to assess your cat’s risk factors and determine the best vaccination plan.

Find rabies laws in your state or area, and more information on rabies

Administration of Rabies Vaccination State Laws from the American Veterinary Medical Association includes a linked list of rabies laws throughout the United States.7

1 https://rabiesalliance.org/about/about-rabies/how-big-problem-rabies

2 https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/rabies/index.html

3 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rabies_vaccine

4 https://www.cdc.gov/rabies/location/usa/index.html

5 https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/68/wr/mm6823e1.htm

6 https://catvets.com/guidelines/practice-guidelines/aafp-aaha-feline-vaccination

7 https://www.avma.org/advocacy/state-and-local-advocacy/administration-rabies-vaccination-state-laws

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