Rabies in animals is caused by a virus, a so-called lyssavirus. The infection is transmitted via saliva and is a notifiable disease. Although the risk of becoming infected is almost non-existent in Sweden, there are still rabies in some parts of Eastern Europe.
Therefore, all animals traveling within and into Europe must be vaccinated against rabies. Sweden has been rabies-free since 1886.
Infection occurs through saliva and bites from infected animals, the most common in cats is from contact with infected dogs, foxes or bats. The reason is that the infected animal secretes a virus in the saliva, this together with the fact that an infected animal also changes behavior and usually becomes aggressive, increases the risk of bites.
The time between infection and disease varies from one week to several years, but the most common is about one to three months. Viruses are present in the saliva before the animal begins to show symptoms and thus the risk of infection is great. Viruses are not transmitted through intact skin, but the risk is great through wounds and contact with mucous membranes.
Lyme virus causes encephalitis and the symptoms are characteristic but can vary between animal species. The first symptoms of domestic cats are behavioral changes, the cat usually becomes shy and aggressive at the same time.
Wild cats can lose their shyness and become contact-seeking but aggressive. Eventually, the animal also gets physical symptoms, it drools (large secretion of virus), has difficulty swallowing and gets increasing paralysis and cramps before it dies.
The symptoms of rabies are very characteristic, but in order to make a diagnosis, the cat must be killed and the brain material examined via autopsy.
Treatment and preventive measures
There is no treatment for rabies in animals, only preventive measures in the form of vaccination. If a cat is suspected of being infected with rabies, it must be killed immediately by law, even if it is rabies vaccinated.
Avoid contact with unknown warm-blooded animals abroad and with bats in Sweden.