No matter how you feel about feline vaccines, Kitty must be kept current on his rabies shots. While many wild animals come down with rabies, felines are the most likely domestic animal to get the virus. While more common in feral cats, with rabies you can never be too careful.
Rabies is fatal. Period. Whether an animal or person comes down with it, death is the outcome. If you're exposed to a rabid animal, you must receive a series of shots to prevent the disease. Transmitted through the saliva when an exposed animal bites, the rabies virus attacks the brain. Rabid cats might drool, act unusually friendly or very aggressive, appear uncoordinated or go into seizures. In the latter stages, animals display a fear of water. This behavior gives rabies its alternate name of hydrophobia.
Kitty should receive his first rabies shot in kittenhood. That initial vaccine is good for one year, whether he gets it as a kitten or adult. After that, your vet or a rabies clinic will vaccinate him according to the time period provided by state law, either every two or three years. If a stray cat comes into your life, he'll start his vaccinations with the one-year shot, since you don't know his vaccination history. Every time Kitty gets his shot, you'll receive a certificate from the attending vet that you can use for proof of inoculation.
What if Kitty never goes outside or comes into contact with other animals? Does he still need a rabies shot? If it's the law in your state or community, it's the law, without exceptions. Plus, you can't guarantee that Kitty will never slip out the door or window. It happens. Rabid animals, especially bats, could invade your home. If you plan a trip and need to keep Kitty at a boarding or veterinary facility, he'll need the rabies certification to stay there. If he ever bites someone and doesn't have a rabies vaccination, he'll need to go into quarantine for the time period mandated by your local laws.
Reactions to the rabies shot are uncommon, but some cats might be affected. As with any vaccination, there's a chance of a cat developing a sarcoma, or cancer, at the injection site. If Kitty develops a swelling where the needle went in, take him to the vet. Also as with any injection, Kitty could go into anaphylactic shock, which can prove fatal. However, a cat does that within minutes of receiving the injection, so your vet should be on hand to administer epinephrine to save him. If Kitty displays any signs of illness within a week of the vaccination, call your vet. Rabies vaccinations should not be given with other vaccines. Wait at least three to four weeks before giving Kitty other vaccinations, or if he's had other shots, getting his rabies injection. Cats with cancer or suppressed immune systems shouldn't receive the vaccine.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
- VetInfo: Feline Rabies Shots
- Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: Ask Elizabeth: Need for Rabies Vaccination for Indoor Cats
- American Veterinary Medical Association: Feline Vaccines -- Benefits and Risks
- Regional Center for Animal Control and Protection: Why Vaccinate Against Rabies?
- VetInfo: Feline Rabies Shot Side Effects
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.