Pet Cat Tests Positive for Rabies in Northern California

| by Denise A Justin
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A pet cat in the Glen Ellen area of Sonoma County, CA, has been determined to have rabies. This is the first domestic animal in the county to test positive for the rabies virus since the 1990′s, according to the Sonoma County Department of Health Services.

Sonoma County is located on the northern California coast and is the largest of the nine San Francisco Bay Area counties.

The cat was taken to a veterinarian by its owner on Monday, January 28, for “strange and aggressive behavior,” according to the Sonoma Valley Sun. The cat was unvaccinated. The owners subsequently received post-exposure preventative care after confirmation of the deadly virus.

Although Sonoma County Animal Care and Control visited the neighborhood where the cat lived and notified neighbors of a possible risk of exposure to rabies if they had any contact with the cat, symptoms do not immediately following exposure to a rabid animal. Symptoms can be varied and can take months to develop.

“Glen Ellen residents and their pets near the area where the infected cat lived were evaluated for risk of exposure and referred appropriately for care,” states the Department of Health.

“The importance of vaccinating cats can be seen from this episode,” said Karen Holbrook, deputy health officer. “If your pet is not current in its rabies vaccinations and encounters a rabid animal it will be recommended to be euthanized.”

Holbrook also warned that people should not pet or touch wild animals, including feral cats.

What is rabies?

Rabies is a viral disease which, when contracted, affects the brain and spinal cord of mammals, including cats, dogs and humans.

The rabies virus can incubate in the body anywhere from one week to more than a year before becoming active. When the virus does become active, symptoms appear quickly, and it is almost 100-percent fatal.

There is no accurate test to diagnose rabies in live animals. The direct fluorescent antibody test is the most accurate test for diagnosis, but it can only be performed after the death of the animal.

How is rabies transmitted?

Rabies is most often transmitted through a bite from an infected animal. Obviously, the risk to cats is greatest if they go outdoors or are feral, in which case they are exposed to wild animals; such as, raccoons, bats, skunks or foxes which are common vectors of the virus. The risk to domestic pets and humans is highest in areas where there are significant numbers of feral or free-roaming cats and dogs.

What are symptoms of rabies in cats?

Classic symptoms of rabies in cats are changes in behavior (including aggression, restlessness and lethargy), increased vocalization, loss of appetite, weakness, disorientation, paralysis, seizures and even sudden death. In the United States, rabies is reported in cats more than in any domestic species.

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