Can My Cat Get Rabies From Killing A Bird?


Pet owners often worry about the health and safety of their furry companions. One concern that frequently comes up is whether cats can contract rabies from prey they catch, especially birds. This concern is understandable, as rabies is a serious and potentially fatal viral disease that affects the central nervous system of mammals. However, the transmission of the rabies virus is actually more complex than it may seem.

In this article, we’ll take a look at some key questions surrounding rabies and cats: What is rabies and which animals can get it? How is the rabies virus transmitted? Can birds become infected with rabies? And ultimately, can cats contract rabies from birds they have captured and killed? We’ll explore the latest scientific information on these topics to help cat owners understand the real risks regarding rabies transmission between birds and cats.

What is Rabies?

Rabies is a deadly viral disease that affects the central nervous system of mammals, including cats, dogs, raccoons, foxes, skunks, and bats. It is spread through contact with infected saliva, usually via bites or scratches from an infected animal. Rabies causes inflammation in the brain, leading to symptoms like aggression, loss of coordination, excessive drooling, trouble swallowing, and fear of water. Rabies has a nearly 100% fatality rate once symptoms appear.

According to the CDC, rabies transmission usually begins when infected saliva passes from a rabid animal to another through a bite. The rabies virus infects the central nervous system, traveling along the neural pathways to the brain where it causes encephalitis or inflammation. As it progresses, the virus interferes with neurotransmitters, leading to the symptoms associated with rabies.

In animals, rabies symptoms can include behavior changes like restlessness, irritability, and even unprovoked aggression. Animals may attack people, other animals, or objects for no reason. They may lose their appetite, have trouble swallowing which leads to excessive drooling, and develop partial paralysis. According to the WHO, animals typically die within 7-10 days of first becoming infected.

Which Animals Can Get Rabies?

Rabies is present in reservoirs of wild animal populations such as raccoons, skunks, foxes, and bats. These animals serve as a constant source of rabies and can infect domestic animals. According to the CDC, the main reservoirs of rabies in the United States are:

  • Raccoons
  • Skunks
  • Bats
  • Foxes
  • Coyotes

While those animals are the primary reservoirs, rabies affects all warm-blooded mammals. That includes common pets like dogs, cats, and ferrets. Livestock like cattle, horses, sheep, and goats are also susceptible. Rodents like squirrels, rats, mice, and chipmunks rarely get rabies. Birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish do not get rabies.

How is Rabies Transmitted?

Rabies is primarily transmitted through bites from infected animals. The rabies virus is found in high concentrations in the saliva of rabid animals. When an infected animal bites another animal or person, the virus can enter the wound through the saliva. According to the CDC, rabies transmission almost always occurs when infected saliva enters open wounds or mucous membranes like the mouth or eyes. The rabies virus is not absorbed through intact skin.

While scratches can also transmit rabies, this is extremely rare. Scratches typically do not break the skin deeply enough to expose someone to infected saliva. Bites that break the skin are required for rabies transmission. Exposure to blood, urine, or feces from an infected animal does not transmit rabies either.

In short, rabies is almost exclusively transmitted through bites from infected animals that transfer saliva into an open wound. Scratches and other forms of contact pose a negligible risk of rabies transmission.

Can Birds Get Rabies?

No, birds cannot get rabies. Rabies is caused by a virus called Lyssavirus which only infects mammals. Birds do not have the right kind of cells that the rabies virus needs to infect and replicate (CDC, 2022).

While all warm-blooded animals are susceptible to rabies to some degree, birds and other non-mammalian species have natural resistance and do not develop clinical signs of rabies. Their body temperatures are too high for the virus to survive and replicate effectively (NCBI, 2015).

Simply put, avian species lack the biological mechanisms to be infected with or transmit the rabies virus. So birds cannot be carriers or vectors for rabies even if they are bitten by a rabid animal (Quora, 2019).

Can Cats Get Rabies from Birds?

No, cats cannot get rabies directly from birds. Birds do not suffer from rabies and cannot transmit the virus (CDC 1). The rabies virus only infects mammals, so while birds can be bitten by rabid mammals, the virus does not amplify in their bodies or cause clinical disease (Wikipedia 1). Therefore, even if a cat ate an infected bird, the rabies virus would not survive.

While scratches from birds may cause minor injuries, there is no risk of rabies transmission from these wounds. The negligible rabies risk to cats from birds contrasts sharply with the high risks from bites and scratches from rabid wildlife like raccoons, bats, foxes, and skunks. Cats allowed outdoor access require rabies vaccination to protect them from terrestrial rabies reservoirs. But they do not require this protection from avian encounters.

Other Wildlife Risks

While rabies in domestic cats is extremely rare, cats can potentially be exposed to the rabies virus through contact with infected wildlife like raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes. Small mammals including raccoons and skunks account for over 80% of reported rabid animals according to the CDC [1]. These species are more likely to carry rabies and transmit it to predators like cats.

Cats can get exposed to rabies when hunting or fighting with rabid animals. Bites are the most common route of transmission, but rabies can also be spread through scratches or contact with an infected animal’s saliva. Cats that hunt small prey outside are at higher risk since they may encounter and tussle with rabid wildlife.

To protect cats from rabies, keep them indoors and supervise time spent outdoors. Reducing interactions with wildlife will minimize the chance of exposure. Cats should also stay up to date on their rabies vaccinations as this provides an important layer of protection if they do come in contact with an infected animal.

Protecting Your Cat

The most effective way to protect your cat from rabies is through vaccination. The rabies vaccine is extremely effective at preventing the disease if given before exposure. Kittens should receive their first rabies shot at 12-16 weeks of age, with a booster 1 year later, according to veterinary guidelines ( Afterward, cats require rabies boosters every 1-3 years depending on your local laws and veterinarian recommendations. Keeping your cat’s rabies vaccinations up-to-date is crucial for protecting your pet’s health.

You should also take steps to minimize your cat’s contact with potentially rabid wildlife. Keep cats indoors and supervise time spent outdoors. Trim tree branches that raccoons or bats could use to access your home. Seal any openings where animals could enter and store pet food securely indoors.

Monitor your cat closely for any signs of rabies, including fever, seizures, paralysis, aggression, excessive drooling, trouble swallowing, and more. If you notice anything unusual, isolate your cat and contact your veterinarian immediately. Though rare, prompt treatment is essential for cats exposed to this deadly virus.


In summary, while rabies poses a serious public health risk, the chance of a cat contracting the disease from an infected bird is extremely low. Birds are not natural reservoirs of the rabies virus, and feline transmission from avian vectors is very rare. Overall, the main conclusions are:

– Rabies is nearly always transmitted to cats through the bite of an infected mammal like a raccoon, skunk, fox or bat. Birds do not play a meaningful role in rabies transmission to felines.

– There are only a handful of isolated cases of rabies transmission from birds to cats documented in the literature.

– Pet cats can contract rabies from wildlife, so keeping them indoors and getting them vaccinated is critical.

– While extremely unlikely, cats can theoretically transmit rabies to humans, so observing pets for symptoms is advised.

The key takeaways for cat owners are to keep felines indoors, get regular rabies vaccinations, spay/neuter to reduce roaming and fighting, and monitor pets for potential symptoms. Taking these simple precautions greatly reduces the negligible risk of rabies transmission from birds.


American Veterinary Medical Association. Rabies.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rabies.

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Zoonotic Diseases.

Merck Veterinary Manual. Overview of Rabies.

UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Zoonotic Diseases in Cats.

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