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Ask the Vet: Even Indoor Cats Need Rabies Vaccination

Dr. Lee Pickett on

Q: My cat BarB -- so named because I found her as a kitten hiding under my barbecue grill -- now lives in my house and doesn't venture outdoors. Her veterinarian insists she needs rabies vaccination. Why is this necessary, if she's a committed homebody?

A: BarB should be vaccinated for rabies to protect herself and you from the deadly disease.

In the U.S., the cat is the domestic animal that most often tests positive for rabies, and the bat is the most commonly infected wildlife species.

Rabid bats bite indoor cats if they meet on the balcony or when the bat enters the home through a torn window screen or flies down the chimney. Some indoor cats are bitten when they escape for even a short time from the home or car.

If BarB's rabies vaccination isn't current and she is exposed to a rabies-infected animal, your county and state laws dictate what follows. That step may range from a stressful and expensive monthslong quarantine, usually at an animal shelter or veterinary hospital, to euthanasia.

If she bites you, a veterinary staff member or a visitor in your home, the stakes are even higher.

 

That's to prevent BarB from transmitting rabies to humans, where the disease causes a gruesome death.

Globally, 59,000 people die every year from rabies. In the U.S., most human cases result from a bat bite inside the home.

In January 2020, the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association published the most recent analysis of rabies data, the reports from 2018, when three people in this country died of rabies.

That January, a 6-year-old Florida boy died after having been bitten by a bat. In August, a 69-year-old Delaware woman died of racoon rabies, despite no known contact. In November, a 55-year-old Utah man died of bat rabies.

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