Can A Vaccinated Cat Get Rabies

Rabies is a fatal viral disease that affects the central nervous system of mammals, including cats. It is spread through the saliva of infected animals and is almost always fatal once clinical signs appear. There is no cure for rabies, but it is preventable through vaccination. Vaccinating cats against rabies is extremely important for several reasons:

First, rabies vaccination protects the health of pet cats by preventing them from acquiring this fatal disease if they are exposed to the rabies virus. According to the CDC, domestic animals accounted for 8% of rabid animals reported in the United States in 2020. So there is a risk of exposure.

Second, vaccinating cats helps protect public health by creating a barrier to rabies transmission. Cats are the domestic animal most frequently reported rabid in the U.S. Rabid cats can transmit the disease to humans through bites or scratches. Vaccinating cats prevents this potential source of human exposure.

This article will examine key questions around whether a vaccinated cat can still get rabies. It will provide an overview of how the rabies vaccine works in cats and discuss the level of protection it provides. Understanding the effectiveness and limitations of the rabies vaccine is critical for responsible pet ownership.

How Rabies Spreads

Rabies spreads to cats primarily through bites and scratches from infected animals. The rabies virus is present in the saliva of rabid animals. When an infected animal bites or scratches a cat, the virus enters the wound and travels through the nerves to the spinal cord and brain.

The most common way for a cat to get infected with rabies is through a bite from a rabid wild animal like a raccoon, skunk, fox or bat. Stray cats are also at higher risk of exposure since they are more likely to get into fights with infected wildlife. Owned cats that go outdoors can encounter and get bitten by a rabid animal as well.

Less commonly, cats can get infected through scratches that break the skin and expose them to infected saliva. Sharing food bowls, toys or bedding with a rabid animal can also theoretically transmit the virus through saliva, but this is very rare.

Overall, direct bites and scratches account for nearly all rabies transmission to cats. For this reason, limiting outdoor roaming and interactions with wildlife, as well as keeping cats up-to-date on rabies vaccinations, are the best ways to protect them.

Rabies Vaccine for Cats

The rabies vaccine works by stimulating the immune system of cats to produce antibodies against the rabies virus. When administered properly, rabies vaccines are highly effective at preventing rabies infection (AAHA Feline Vaccination Guidelines).

The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) recommends all kittens receive an initial rabies vaccination at 12-16 weeks of age. After the initial dose, a booster 1 year later is required to provide maximum immunity. Following the first booster, rabies vaccines should be administered every 3 years thereafter (AAFP Vaccination Guidelines).

Some states may require more frequent rabies boosters by law. Check with your veterinarian on the rabies vaccine laws for your local area.

Efficacy of Rabies Vaccine

Research shows that rabies vaccines are highly effective in cats. One study published in Preventive Veterinary Medicine looked at the antibody response in 722 vaccinated cats over several years. It found that rabies antibodies remained high even when cats were overdue for their booster shot, indicating continued protection. After the first dose, 98.5% of cats developed adequate rabies antibody levels. After a booster one year later, 100% of cats had protective antibody levels. Even two to four years after the initial vaccination series, 94.6% to 97.2% of cats maintained antibody levels considered protective against rabies infection (Nokireki et al., 2017).

Another study monitored rabies antibody levels in a large sample of vaccinated dogs and cats. Nearly all animals (99.4%) had protective antibody levels one year after their initial vaccination. At two to four years after vaccination, protective antibody levels remained high at 98.2% in dogs and 96.7% in cats (Nokireki et al., 2017).

These findings demonstrate that rabies vaccination provides excellent protection against rabies infection in cats for at least two to four years after the initial series. Booster shots are still recommended every one to three years depending on vaccine type to ensure antibody levels remain high. But even with overdue boosters, almost all vaccinated cats retain immunity against this deadly disease.

Risk of Vaccinated Cat Getting Rabies

The risk of a vaccinated cat contracting rabies is extremely low, but not zero. According to the CDC, pets that have been properly vaccinated against rabies are unlikely to become infected if exposed to the rabies virus Types of Exposure – Rabies. However, there are some factors that may influence the level of protection provided by the vaccine:

  • Time since vaccination – Protection decreases over time, so keeping up with booster shots is important.
  • Health of the cat’s immune system – Illness or medications that suppress the immune system can reduce vaccine efficacy.
  • Complete vaccination series – Kittens need a series of vaccinations to provide full protection.
  • Vaccine type – Some vaccine types provide longer lasting immunity than others.
  • Variant of rabies virus – Vaccines protect best against strains they are designed for.

While rare, there have been cases of vaccinated cats becoming infected after exposure, especially if one of the above factors was present. But generally, a properly vaccinated cat has a very low chance of developing rabies. It’s still recommended to monitor any cat after potential rabies exposure and follow veterinary advice.

Monitoring a Vaccinated Cat

Even though the rabies vaccine is highly effective, it’s still important to monitor your vaccinated cat for any potential signs of rabies infection (1). According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, some early signs of rabies in cats may include (2):

  • Behavioral changes like sudden loss of appetite, nervousness, irritability, and hyperexcitability
  • Seeking solitude and hiding
  • Mild lethargy and decreased appetite

If a vaccinated cat is potentially exposed to rabies again through a bite wound or contact with an infected animal’s saliva, the cat should be immediately examined by a veterinarian (3). The vet will check for any signs of rabies infection. Even if a vaccinated cat shows no symptoms, the vet may recommend a booster rabies vaccine as an extra precaution following exposure.

It’s critical to monitor a potentially exposed vaccinated cat for at least 45 days. Rabies can take weeks to incubate before signs appear. Any concerning symptoms during the monitoring period should prompt urgent veterinary care to test for rabies infection (1).

Importance of Booster Shots

It is essential for cat owners to adhere to the recommended rabies vaccine booster schedule to maintain their pet’s protection against the rabies virus. According to the CDC, rabies vaccines provide excellent immunity when boosters are given on time. However, antibody levels can gradually decline over time if boosters are missed or delayed.

The initial rabies vaccination provides 1 year of immunity. After the first booster shot given 1 year later, cats and dogs have a minimum 3-year duration of immunity. Some states allow rabies vaccination every 3 years, but the recommended booster interval is no greater than every 1 to 3 years based on vaccine label instructions and local laws (CDC, 2022).

Giving rabies vaccine boosters as directed provides ongoing immunity against the rabies virus. If a booster dose is delayed or skipped, the cat may have inadequate protection and be at higher risk of contracting rabies. It’s critical to follow the advice of your veterinarian and keep your cat’s rabies vaccination current.

According to the CDC (2022), “Immunocompetent dogs and cats with overdue rabies boosters should be revaccinated immediately, then given boosters annually until vaccinated on a regular schedule again.” This emphasizes the importance of adhering to the recommended booster schedule.

In summary, rabies vaccine boosters are vital to maintain protective antibody levels in cats. Work with your vet to ensure your cat receives boosters on time as directed. Keeping your cat up to date on rabies vaccination is key to protecting your pet’s health and public safety.

Unvaccinated Cats

Unvaccinated cats are at a significantly higher risk of contracting rabies compared to vaccinated cats. According to the CDC, rabies vaccination laws are less stringent for cats than dogs, and cats tend to roam outdoors more freely, leading to more rabies cases in felines.

Without vaccination, if an unvaccinated cat is exposed to the rabies virus through a bite or scratch from an infected animal, the risk of developing rabies is extremely high. The incubation period averages 3-8 weeks before symptoms appear, but can be as short as just a few days. Once clinical signs occur, rabies is almost always fatal in cats.

Some studies estimate over 90% of rabid domestic animals are unvaccinated. Getting the recommended routine rabies vaccinations for kittens and boosters for adult cats is crucial to protecting them from this deadly virus. An unvaccinated cat that is potentially exposed to rabies may be immediately euthanized or quarantined for several months due to the high risks involved.

Other Rabies Prevention Tips

In addition to keeping your cat’s rabies vaccination up to date, there are other important steps you can take to prevent rabies exposure:

  • Avoid contact with wildlife. Keep cats indoors and supervise them when outside to prevent interactions with wild animals that may be infected with rabies.
  • Do not feed stray animals. Feeding stray cats and dogs encourages them to congregate, increasing the risk of rabies exposure and transmission.
  • Spay/neuter your pets. Unaltered animals are more likely to roam and get into fights with other animals.
  • Report stray animals to animal control. This helps reduce the stray population and rabies risk.
  • Keep your pet’s information up to date. Having current identification on your pet’s collar increases the chances of reunification if they become lost.

Following these tips along with proper vaccination is the best way to protect your cat from rabies exposure. Supervise outdoor time, avoid wildlife interactions, and do not feed strays to keep your cat safe.



In summary, while the rabies vaccine is extremely effective at protecting cats from the rabies virus, there is still a small chance a vaccinated cat can contract rabies under certain circumstances. The rabies vaccine works by stimulating the cat’s immune system to produce antibodies that target the rabies virus. When administered properly and boosters given on schedule, the vaccine provides immunity in over 95% of cats.

However, just like any vaccine, the rabies vaccine is not 100% effective. In very rare cases, a vaccinated cat may still develop rabies if exposed to a large dose of the virus. This is more likely in cats who are overdue for a booster shot. Additionally, cats with compromised immune systems may not gain full immunity from the vaccine.

While the risk is quite low, it is not zero. So it remains crucial to get your cat properly vaccinated against rabies and stay current on boosters. Vaccination protects your cat and also helps prevent the spread of rabies to other pets and people. Though rare, rabies is almost always fatal once symptoms appear. Therefore, rabies prevention through vaccination remains a key public health priority.

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