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In the country where I live there has been a mild rabies outbreak, which in turn has prompted the authorities to enforce obligatory vaccination of all cats and dogs, even ones which don't go out. It's an issue that (according to my vet) may put the cat's life in danger since the spot of the rabies vaccine has a higher possibility of developing a tumor in the future.

Of course a cat can (even playfully) bite or scratch you, but is there a real danger from that? And how can a cat kept inside contact rabies? Is rabies possible to be contacted by the cat even without being bitten or scratched by another ill animal e.g. by contacting bat feces?

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Do you have a mouse proof house? –  James Jenkins Apr 10 at 13:43
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Seems like the risk for and repercussions in the rare chance that your cat contracts rabies far outweighs the risk from getting the vaccine. –  Jestep Apr 10 at 15:19
    
Somewhat related: pets.stackexchange.com/questions/2549/… –  Zaralynda Apr 10 at 16:09

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Transmission of the Virus

From the (US) Center for Disease Control information page on rabies:

People usually get rabies from the bite of a rabid animal. It is also possible, but quite rare, that people may get rabies if infectious material from a rabid animal, such as saliva, gets directly into their eyes, nose, mouth, or a wound.

Scratches, abrasions, open wounds, or mucous membranes contaminated with saliva or other potentially infectious material (such as brain tissue) from a rabid animal constitute non-bite exposures. Occasionally reports of non-bite exposure are such that postexposure prophylaxis is given.

Inhalation of aerosolized rabies virus is also a potential non-bite route of exposure, but except for laboratory workers, most people won't encounter an aerosol of rabies virus.

Other contact, such as petting a rabid animal or contact with the blood, urine or feces of a rabid animal, does not constitute an exposure.

So, no, contact with bat feces won't cause your cat to get rabies.

Risks to Indoor Cats

There are still risks for an indoor only cat. Cornell's Feline Health Center has an article (written from the point of view of a cat).

Rabid animals don't behave like normal animals - sometimes they're overly friendly or abnormally aggressive. We've heard stories about rabid raccoons breaking through screens and coming indoors, and it's quite common for bats, which have a high incidence of rabies, to find their way indoors. There's nothing that I like better than chasing a bird or bat around the house, and I'll bet that most of my feline brethren would agree. Bats can enter homes or apartments through small cracks.

There's also always the chance, however small, that an indoor-only cat might sneak outdoors through an open window or door. Some of us become frightened and escape when we're carried outdoors for, say, trips to the vet hospital, and I've heard about cats whose cars have been involved in accidents that left them suddenly free (cat carriers will prevent most of these accidental escapes).

Rabies is a Serious Disease

The article from Cornell's Feline Health Center continues:

Bite wounds treated by a physician are typically reported to the health department, which may then request proof of rabies vaccination. If the owner can't provide this proof, once again there may be repercussions for both owner and kitty, including a fine for having an unvaccinated animal; a recommendation that the cat be euthanized and tested for rabies, especially if the cat was ill; or a period of quarantine, for the cat. These penalties may seem overly severe, but remember that once the signs appear, there is no effective treatment for rabies.

Vaccine Safety

The danger we hear about most often in conjunction with vaccines is sarcoma (ie. cancer). Lisa A Pearson writes:

These are highly invasive, aggressive/malignant cancerous tumors that are often fatal within months of appearing.

They are most commonly associated with vaccine adjuvants but can also form at the site of any injection that causes local inflammation.

That said, even though injected substances other than adjuvants can cause sarcomas, these tumors were relatively rare prior to the advent of adjuvants.

Adjuvants are substances that are added to vaccines to purposely cause inflammation at the vaccine site in order to alert the immune system to its presence. They are used with killed vaccines to stimulate a more robust immune response.

Do not assume that your veterinarian uses non-adjuvanted vaccines.

ASK - before allowing any vaccine to be injected into your cat.

Please note: NO vaccine (adjuvanted or non-adjuvanted) is to be given in the scruff area under any circumstance. They are to be given as low on a limb as possible. This is to allow for limb amputation if a VAS occurs.

In 1997, the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) came out with the strong recommendation to never use the scruff area for vaccines.

Dr. Pearson also discusses higher incidence of kidney failure among cats who have been vaccinated.

The viruses used to make vaccines need to be grown in what is called a "cell culture". The cells used to make the FVRCP vaccine are feline (cat) kidney cells.

When these kidney cells are injected into the cat (along with the vaccine), his immune systems views them as foreign and makes antibodies against them. Unfortunately, those antibodies do not know the difference between the injected kidney cells and his own kidney tissue resulting in a potential autoimmune 'attack' on his kidneys. ('Auto' means 'self''.)

Other possible side affects that she discusses include allergies (both life threatening anaphylactic and milder allergies), Vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, fever, anorexia, lameness, neurologic abnormalities, local swelling and soreness at vaccine site.

Overall

These are difficult issues that a cat owner must weigh. If a vaccine is legally required, the best you can do is make sure it is non-adjuvanted and injected as low in the leg as possible.

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Cats can transmit rabies via biting.... but a cat must first contract rabies from something else. If it is vaccinated this should not happen. If it is always inside it is unlikely (but not impossible, a bat or some other rabid animal could enter your house, have an altercation with your cat and bingo... rabid cat).

Rabies is an insideous disease and sometimes it happens quickly and othertimes slowly... it replicates itself along a nerve, and until it reaches the brain of the animal it can be treated (by vaccination).

Recent research suggests that it isn't 100% fatal as originally thought, but it probably is >>90% fatal for most mammals and the few who survive are sometimes in very bad shape

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Do you have a source for saying that rabies isn't fatal? Even the Milwaukee protocol has a very high failure rate, and is so expensive that it's only used for humans. –  Zaralynda Apr 10 at 19:02
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+1 for the interesting articles but I think saying rabies is > 90% fatal is grossly over-optimistic unless perhaps you happen to live in the Peruvian Amazon. Greater than 99% would be a more accurate estimate for the rest of the world. –  Carey Gregory Apr 14 at 4:44
    
not to be picky but > means greater than and >> means much greater than. I don't think we actually know what the fatality rate for humans and rabies is, obviously it is more than 90% but the Peru study suggests it could be less than 99% (fatalities are reported, survival isn't especially in poor areas with bad healthcare and record keeping). Incidentally some scientists feel that the "Milwaukee" protocol does more harm than good, and the person who survived it might have been able to fight off rabies without it. Of course, none of this is proven- just speculations. –  Dan S Apr 25 at 20:30

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