Rabies, What to Do if Bitten by a Cat

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If you are a cat owner, or are around cats, you may be wondering what happens if you are bitten by a cat. How likely is it that you will get the deadly disease known as rabies? Here is more information on what you should do if you are bitten by a cat.

You may note that it is common for feral cats to bite out of fear, for declawed cats to bite for no reason, or for a kitten to bite when playing, you should not assume that rabies is not a risk, nor should you assume that you have rabies, until you follow this guide.

In order for a cat to have rabies it must have been bitten by a rabid animal, and you need to know that symtoms can take weeks to develop.

If the Skin is Not Broken

If the cat bite does not break the skin there is no worry about you getting rabies. This does not mean the cat doesn't have rabies, other considerations might be addressed in regards to “why” the cat bit you, and how likely the cat is to have rabies, but you do not have to fear being infected.

If the Skin is Broken

Rabies is a virus it needs your blood stream to travel to the brain, but the good news is that it travels very slowly to the brain, so while you need to act, you should not need to panic. From the time you are bitten, if infected, the disease could become active in as little as two weeks, or not for as long as two years, however, if infected, you do need to be treated before rabies becomes active.

Wash the wound with soap and water for at least 5 minutes. Apply iodine, or an alcohol antiseptic, to the wound, and get medical aid, especially if you require stitches.

It is very important to find the cat who bit you. This is easy if it is your cat, or you know the owner. If it is a stray cat you need to call the animal control officers in your area, or the police, and have them catch it. Usually they will set a trap – do not attempt to catch a feral cat who has bitten you if you think it is rabid. Do not kill the cat!

Determine if the cat is up to date on its rabies vaccination. If you own the cat, or know who does, a simple call to the cat's veterinarian will determine if the cat is up to date on its vaccinations. If there is any doubt then the cat needs to be placed under a 10 day rabies hold. If the cat is up to date on its vaccinations, and otherwise acting normal, there is no reason to worry about rabies.

10 Day Rabies Hold

Either the veterinarian, city pound, or animal shelter, will act to hold cats who have bitten and are suspected of having rabies. The standard rabies hold is ten days long. If the animal is infected with rabies it will die within that time frame and its head will be sent to a lab for further testing, but in the mean time you will be sent to receive treatment. The general treatment is known as the post-exposure prophylaxis or PEP and is generally successful.

If the animal is fine after the 10 day rabies hold it is returned to the owner, generally without boarding charges, but the owner may face a fine for the cat biting somebody, or being out of its yard (where laws exist requiring cats to be kept within their yard).

feral kitten

Authors Note:  This is a feral kitten, born wild so its behavior is excused due to not having seen people before, additionally I have been vaccinated for rabies myself due to working at an animal shelter. 

Other Information

A rabid cat will typically develop other indications of rabies, being more aggressive, confused, have increased salvation, have a fear of water, and be overly agitated. If the cat is feral and caged it might have some of these “symptoms” anyhow, but these are not normally seen in a housecat. If a cat begins showing these signs rabies can be suspected, and the cat should be monitored closely, and put on a rabies hold if it is unvaccinated. If the cat is vaccinated and showing these signs contact your veterinarian right away.

If the cat cannot be caught, which may be the case of a feral cat, and you do not know whose it is, you may be encouraged to get treated for rabies immediately just in case.

If you see a stray cat that appears to have rabies like symptoms do not approach it, instead call your local animal control and have them set out a trap for the cat. Do not poison it or otherwise kill it (it cannot be tested if you do), it should be placed on the rabies hold and tested to determine if rabies is in your area.

You should note that dogs tend to spread rabies more than cats.

Cat bites can also spread Cat Scratch Disease.

Other Reading

Do Inside Only Cats Need Vaccinations


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