Rabid Indoor-only Cat

jessicamlJuly 8, 2012

My brother has a wife, 2 children and 3 (was 4) indoor cats. They've had a couple bats in their house and shooed them outside, thinking no harm done.

However, a couple days ago, one of their cats was showing multiple signs of rabies, so they had to have it euthanized. It's head was sent off for rabies testing, and they're still waiting to hear the test results (how long does that take?). One cat should be current on rabies shots (shelter adoptee, I think in the last 6 months), but I'm pretty sure the other two aren't current on vaccinations. They didn't worry about it since the cats were 'indoor only' cats.

First they were told they all needed rabies shots, but when they went to get them the doctor told them they didn't need rabies shots (presumably until the test results come back? No one recalls being bitten, but cats routinely bite and scratch in play, so it's hard to remember).

Has anyone been through this to know what happens if the cat tests positive for rabies? The family is already traumatized about losing their furry family member; I can't imagine the devastation if they have to euthanize the others, too. Also, they were told rabies shots cost $5000 (each, I believe), and I don't think insurance from SIL's new job will provide coverage yet. Does this sound right? I'm hoping there's a misunderstanding somewhere, or a public service option of some sort.

Also, how do you determine what constitutes exposure? The day before the cat was put down, there was a barbecue at my brother's house. I petted the allegedly-rabid cat; afterwards they said she was drooling and they thought she'd licked the soap, also that she may have a cold - so I washed my hands before touching my cat. My SIL's cat-loving mother very likely petted the cat, as well. My parents entered the home, but didn't pet the cat. Who, if anyone, needs shots?

I feel like I'm in a horror movie with some freaky fatal disease...except it's real! And I realize a doctor or vet would probably be the best person to talk to...but I'm hoping someone here has been through this and can offer insight in the meantime. There are enough other stressful things going on in our lives without worrying about this. If nothing else, maybe my narrative will convince other owners of indoor cats not to get lax on vaccinations (I know I'll be more vigilant!).

Here is a link that might be useful: Helpful thread on Rabies and Bats in the house

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From the CDC.

Here is a link that might be useful: Rabies exposure protocol

    Bookmark   July 8, 2012 at 8:22AM
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This is really awful! But you're asking too many questions of people you don't know, who may or may not have accurate information. Be glad the bats didn't bite someone in the family during the night. A teenager here died a few years ago from just that, he didn't even know he'd been bitten. There's no treatment for that. And I hope they're taking steps to keep those bats out.

Keep us updated on this one, okay?

    Bookmark   July 8, 2012 at 3:34PM
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lots of diseases can have neuologic symptoms, and drooling can have many causes (most common dental disease and oral tumors)... doubt your cat is going to end up as a positive rabies cat, but I have seen cats strictly indoors exposed to rabid bats, that can fly into a house through an attic, chimney or open window.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2012 at 11:43AM
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It just costs so little extra above the course of other shots to have all your cats get rabies vaccine, and as far as human implications and the expense of after the fact treatments it's certainly worth the expense to protect your family. I'm surprised it's not mandated in rabies areas. Of course this is a case of hind-sight and we all know how that goes. I never used to get my inside-only cats on rabies vaccine but given we are in a rabies area and we do get bats in our house at least once a year I have changed my views on that 180 degrees. I am so sorry this is happening to your family and wish the best possible outcome.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2012 at 12:50PM
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I finally found out late this evening that my niece's cat tested negative for rabies. I'm sure there will be some lingering guilt over the vaccination status and wondering what they could have done differently, but I think most of us are breathing a sigh of relief.

Thank you all so much for your support and useful info. I started this thread for a few reasons; to get more 'real world' input than I was able to find on official rabies websites, to vent my anxieties, and to inform others who might not realize their pets could be at risk. It's been a hair-raising example of why people should only have as many pets as they can afford vet bills for, and why no one should assume their indoor pets are 'safe'. I'm feeling a little humbler today (no more 'it couldn't happen to me'), and very thankful for the kindness of friends and strangers. It was a very sad lesson for my brother's family, but I'm sure they'll be more conscientious pet owners in the future. And you can be sure that my baby, Tabitha, will be getting her boosters this summer!

Here is a link that might be useful: X-post in Home Decorating conversations

    Bookmark   July 10, 2012 at 1:04AM
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I am so glad you came back on to let us know how this turned out. Not vacinating an indoor cat for rabies isn't untypical. Most people would assume it wasn't necessary. Even my vets don't venture further than asking if a cat is going to be kept inside or out, before suggesting a rabies shot. Don't ever assume shelter cats have been given that shot, either. Our shelter will say a cat is up to date on their shots, but that just means for the age at which you adopted them and doesn't include rabies when it's a cat. Just for dogs. I guess there is this big assumption that cats don't bite. Ha! When I carried mail, the only animal I was ever bitten by was a big old cat sitting on a doorstep I leaned over to pet.

There was a post on here a year ago about a young lady who found a bat in bed with her and her cat. The health department had to assume the cat had been exposed. I don't know why, maybe because it killed the bat. However, instead of euthanising the cat, it had to be held for quarantine and she was at odds about how she was going to pay for it. I asked if the bat had been saved and sent in for a rabies test, and she never answered. I assume it hadn't, but that would have been the logical thing to do to avoid the rabies treatment for her and the quarantine for her cat. I'm sure everyone in the family was relieved and btw, your Tabitha is beautiful. I especially fancy tabby cats and that's the perfect name for her.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2012 at 4:10AM
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I read your thread yesterday, but didn't have a chance to respond. As sad as your family's story is, it's good you at least have the relief of it not being rabies.

I'll try to keep this short, but like calliope said, I lean toward going ahead and getting the rabies vaccine for your cats if they are healthy enough- after having thought about this for years.

One of my cats died from a cancer caused by getting the rabies vaccine. After that I didn't want to have any of my cats vaccinated for rabies, but we've lived in places where it is required by law, so I've taken a deep breath and had it done. Then my old girl became too ill to receive the rabies vaccine, so for 6 years the vet wrote her rabies waivers as needed. At first, I had a sense of relief that I would never have to worry about putting that vaccine in that cat again, but my mind later changed.

She was on a rabies waiver when the thread calliope referenced about the person with the bat in the apartment came up. After that I started thinking more and more about my non-vaccinated, indoor only cat, and NOT having rabies vaccination bothered me more. For one thing, I could not allow anyone else to pill her, for fear she might inadvertently sink a tooth into their finger. If the person then went to their doctor, the doctor would be obligated to report it to authorities, and a rabies waiver wouldn't work as a "get out of jail free" card, it was only okay to be on a rabies waiver providing no incidents ever happened. If something did happen, it was essentially the same as someone being bitten by animal that could not easily be proven to be rabies free.

And then there were the squirrels and mice that are around the house. I live in the desert. Not much wildlife, but enough even near the house at times to give pause for thought. Even an interaction through a screen, or if kitty got rambunctious and burst outside-- you just never know what will happen. And for me, it seemed unlikely that she would ever contract rabies, but the problem would have been if some event occurred which came to light and was later questioned by authorities. Having the rabies vaccine would make things okay, not having it can just lead to additional problems-- as you are probably gathering.

Even having been through the vaccination cancer, I will likely always keep my cats rabies vaccinated if their health allows for it. The risks are small, and the potential reward is peace of mind.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2012 at 9:16AM
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quasifish--we went through a cancer "battle" with one of our late cats, but hers was likely caused by the Feline Leukemia vaccine (very often associated with fibrosarcoma).

Supposedly, it is the adjuvants that are suspected to be linked with vaccine-related cancers (a vaccine adjuvant is a substance that is added to the vaccine to increase the body's immune response to the vaccine). Our vet switched back to using a 1 yr rabies booster/shot (Purevax) vs. the 3 yr version they had been using because the 1 yr shot does not contain adjuvants.

As an added precaution, we do not allow the vet to vaccinate in the "scruff", the area between the shoulder blades. He vaccinates them in the area just above the hind leg(s). If a lump should appear, the thought is, that it is easier to get clean margins (via amputation of the limb, for ex. vs trying to remove tissue between the shoulder blades).

We do not give our current cats the FeLv vaccine. We do rabies vaccines yearly, and the distemper shot is given every three years (distemper is airborne--not only do I volunteer at an animal shelter every week, but we were concerned about exposing our cats if/when they need to be hospitalized).

Luckily none of us were bitten by it, but a bat got into our house about 5-5 1/2 years ago. It was flying around in our LR/DR/kitchen. The cats heard it, crept out of the bedroom to investigate, and promptly ran downstairs! DH grabbed a large fishing net left by the PO's of our house, and caught it in the net. We got it out of the house before it touched us or the cats.

I was yelling (from the bedroom, where I was cowering!) to DH to protect "my babies!" until I realized that they were vaccinated, and he wasn't.

To the OP, I am glad the cat was not rabid, but so sorry for your brother's family at the loss of a beloved pet.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2012 at 12:17PM
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This is a disturbing story. The worst of it for me would be to feel like my cat died needlessly and I could have prevented it - I would really be kicking myself about now.

What I'm not understanding is why the supposedly rabid cat was not quarantined and tested prior to being executed.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2012 at 2:38PM
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There is no 'test' for rabies. The only definitive diagnosis is examination of brain tissue in a suspected animal.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2012 at 4:46PM
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Yes, of course - and thats why they did what they did. Yyou know those news stories about how they have to find an animal otherwise the person has to get a series of painful rabies shots - guess I was thinking they could just run a test when they found the animal.

It's just such a sad story.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2012 at 6:54PM
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btw.. if your unvaccinated cat happens to be exposed to a bat or some other potential rabies carrier (squirrels and rats are extremely uncommon carriers of rabies), your cat can be vaccinated for rabies right then.. .the disease is way slower than the vaccine, so there is still plenty of time to get your kitty vaccinated and protect it from possible exposure to a deadly virus. However, once symptoms occur, it's a bit too late for that.

I have sent in several dozen cat heads to the rabies testing service here in Los Angeles over the years and yet to get a single positive case, even in cats that had very suspicious or bizarre neurologic symptoms. I am not sure how often we even see a positive rabies in a cat here in California, but I think they are extremely rare occurrences. Rabies in dogs here is even less common from what I understand. But we do get lots of rabies in bats, skunks and some in raccoons and cattle (I was personally exposed to a rabid cow in school, for which was rewarded a free rabies vaccine booster (can be pretty pricey nowadays)).

    Bookmark   July 11, 2012 at 2:55AM
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Cat mom, I'm sorry you went through that too. I've been considering going to the 1 year vaccine on my young guy (he seems to get sick after vaccination and I wonder if the 1 year would be gentler on his system- have to ask the vet), but my vet doesn't stock it because she feels the cancer risk with the 3 year vaccine is minimal (they will order it though). I've lived most of my life in CA, but when my girl got the rabies vaccine that led to the sarcoma, we were living in the midwest and I later learned that the vaccine that was used is (for whatever reason) not used here in CA- which may or may not have anything to do with the tumor. She was also on the leading edge of the epidemic; when she got her tumor, nobody seemed to know what we were dealing with. Getting a little OT maybe so I won't rattle too much longer on that.

lzrddr, fascinating information. I was surprised about the cows, but then again not really. Dh often works out in remote areas that are free-range for cattle- I'm going to warn him to stay away from cows, LOL. (No, he doesn't approach them). I was watching an episode of Billy the Exterminator a few months back and he said that there has never been a case of a squirrel transmitting rabies to a human in the US (this after his brother was bitten by a squirrel they were trying to catch), so I figured rabies in squirrels is pretty rare. Still, the thing I always worried about was that if some kind of incident (who knows what?) occurred which caused animal control, the health department, etc. to be involved, an unvaccinated animal is considered rabid until proven not rabid.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2012 at 9:27AM
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Jessi, I'm glad the one kitty is okay and your right, it is a lesson learned. Who would ever think our animals aren't safe in our own homes? We moved to where we live now about 6 years ago and for the first time saw bats flying around outside a few nights ago (ewe). I've never heard of them getting into the house and to be honest, the thought scares the bejeepers out of me.

Can I ask how they get in?

    Bookmark   July 12, 2012 at 12:47AM
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I've always liked bats, since they remind me of flying teddy bears (as a kid) or flying mice (now). They help control insects, and since I'm scared of spiders, I always thought of bats as the cuter alternative bug-control. Of course, bats putting my kitty or family in danger isn't so cute. This thread has been really informative.

Around here they seem to gather in the old cottonwood trees in town. My brother's house is 100+ years old, so I'm sure there are all sorts of gaps where the bats can get in. They can squeeze through incredibly tiny holes, rather like mice (perhaps they even live in the inaccessible part of the roof, with the colony of wasps).

The best way to keep bats, and other wildlife, out of your home is to be sure it's weatherproofed and sealed up well.

Here is a link that might be useful: How To Keep Bats Out of Your House: Safely, Humanely and Naturally

    Bookmark   July 12, 2012 at 5:14PM
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Thanks for the info Jessi, though I know they serve an important purpose (and I hate spiders and insects too) I don't have the same affections for them as you do. :c) They gave me the creeps the other night. LOL We have a new roof and sealed attic but still maybe it's time we do some double checking on the weather proofing of our house. Having one get inside would FREAK ME OUT! lol

    Bookmark   July 13, 2012 at 5:58PM
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