Rabies in cats


  • Rabies is a deadly virus that can spread between animals and people.
  • It travels through saliva, so cats can catch it if an infected animal bites or scratches them.
  • Rabies attacks the brain and nerves, causing symptoms such as drooling, fever, aggression and weakness.
  • The UK is currently free of rabies, but many other countries aren’t, so it‘s a legal requirement to vaccinate any cats that travel outside the UK.
  • There is no treatment for rabies in cats.
  • Looking for information on rabies in dogs?

How does rabies affect cats?

Rabies is a deadly virus that attacks the central nervous system (brain and nerves), causing severe symptoms and eventually death. It travels in saliva, so cats can catch it if an infected animal bites or scratches them. They can also catch rabies if they have an open wound that’s licked by an infected animal, but this is much rarer.

Rabies is a zoonotic disease, which means it can spread between animals and humans. The UK is currently rabies-free, so it is essential that we take precautions to ensure it doesn’t get reintroduced, for example, by vaccinating any cats that come from, or travel, abroad.

Rabies symptoms in cats

Symptoms of rabies in cats usually take five days to three months to develop after the bite but, in some rare circumstances, it can take up to a year.

Early symptoms include:

Rabies can then develop in one of two ways, ‘furious rabies’ or ‘dumb rabies’. Unlike dogs, most cats (95%) will show signs of furious rabies.

Furious rabies symptoms include:

  • Aggression including biting
  • Drooling
  • Restlessness
  • Itchy in the area they were bitten/scratched

Dumb rabies symptoms include:

  • Drooling
  • Howling
  • Weakness in their muscles that gets worse
  • Paralysis (not being able to move)
  • Coma

Hydrophobia (fear of water) is only seen in humans and is not a symptom of rabies in cats or dogs.



There are no available tests for rabies in live patients, so vets have to diagnose it based on symptoms, travel history, and whether the cat was seen being bitten or scratched by another animal. A definite diagnosis can only be made by examining the brain after death.

Rabies treatment

Sadly, there is no treatment for rabies, and it’s nearly always fatal within 5–15 days of symptoms developing. If your vet suspects your cat has rabies, the kindest option is to put them to sleep.

Rabies vaccine for cats

A ginger cat on a consulting table having an injection administered by a vet

The only way to prevent rabies in cats is to vaccinate against it. This is only necessary for cats that travel abroad because the UK is currently free of rabies.

Rabies vaccination is essential for any dog, cat, or ferret travelling outside of the UK. Read more about travelling with your pet on the government website.

  • Cats must be at least 12 weeks old and microchipped before they have the rabies vaccine.
  • Proof of vaccination must be noted on their travel documents.
  • Boosters must be kept up to date for as long as you want to keep travelling with your cat.
  • Some countries may require a blood test to check the vaccine has been successful.
  • You should plan well in advance with your vet.

Side effects of rabies vaccines

Fortunately, most cats don’t experience any side effects at all after the rabies vaccine and, if they do, they are usually mild (high temperature, low energy, and a reduced appetite) and pass within 24-48 hours. Serious side effects, such as anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction), are extremely rare (less than 1 in 10,000), but if your cat does experience any side effects, speak to your vet straight away.

When to contact your vet

Contact your vet if your cat has been bitten or scratched by an animal abroad, or if you are concerned they have signs of rabies. You should also contact your vet if your cat has a reaction to their rabies vaccination.

If you are planning to travel abroad, you must contact your vet well in advance to prepare documents, give any vaccinations and administer blood tests or other necessary treatments.


The price of rabies vaccinations vary from year to year and between each veterinary practice. If you call your vet they can tell you their current prices.


How often do I need to vaccinate my cat for rabies?

Most rabies vaccinations last three years, although some cats need a booster one year after their first injection. Some countries may require annual vaccinations, so check the requirement in advance. Your cat’s rabies vaccinations need to be up-to-date if you want to take them abroad.

Can my cat be vaccinated if they are poorly?

It’s always safest to give a vaccination when your cat is fit and healthy so, if this isn’t the case, you may need to delay their vaccination. Contact your vet for advice if your cat is showing any signs of illness before their vaccination appointment.

Are vaccinations dangerous?

All vaccines used by vets in the UK are licensed, meaning they have to go through rigorous safety checks before they are approved for use. These licenses are also under constant review by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate to make sure they stay safe. As with any medication, there’s always the possibility of side effects, but they are rare and the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks.

Can I catch rabies from my cat?

Yes, if your cat has rabies and you are bitten by them, it is possible that you could catch the disease. However, the UK is currently rabies-free so this would only be possible if your cat has travelled abroad and caught rabies from another animal, in which case they would probably be showing symptoms. If you are bitten by an animal while you are abroad then you should see a doctor as soon as possible. Don’t wait until you get back to the UK. Early treatment is very effective in humans, so seeing a doctor quickly means the disease will be highly unlikely to develop.

Published: January 2024

Written by vets and vet nurses. This advice is for UK pets only. Illustrations by Samantha Elmhurst.