Animal Bites, Rabies and Quarantine in Cats

Unfortunately, animal bites are a common injury in cats, especially those that spend a lot of time outdoors. Although infection is the most common result of these bites, rabies should also be a concern. Any animal that has bitten a person or that is under the suspicion of being exposed to rabies is often required by law to be quarantined for a period of time. The amount of time, as well as the quarantine site, depends on the bite, the pet's vaccine status and local laws.


Rabies is a deadly virus contagious to all warm-blooded animal species, including people. The virus is most often transmitted from one animal to another through bite wounds. It then travels through the nerves, the spinal cord and eventually the brain. After reaching the brain, the virus causes death within 10 days, although it can take weeks to months to reach the brain. Once signs of rabies develop, there is no cure and the disease is fatal.

Signs include aggression, extreme lethargy, abnormal mental status and seizure. Drooling is common since the muscles of the throat are paralyzed and the animal cannot swallow.

What To Do If Your Pet Bites Someone

After biting a person, most pets are required by local law to be quarantined. The site of quarantine and the length of time vary on your pet's vaccination status. Pets unvaccinated for rabies may have to be euthanized and tested for rabies. The rabies test requires microscopic examination of brain tissue and is not a test your pet can survive.

If local laws allow, you may be able to place your pet in isolation at an animal control center or veterinary hospital for 6 months. If signs of rabies do not develop, the pet is vaccinated for rabies one month before release from quarantine and is then allowed to return home. Usually, the cost of quarantine is the responsibility of the pet owner.

For pets with expired vaccinations, quarantine may be required. These situations are usually handled on a case-by-case basis. Oftentimes, the animal is immediately vaccinated for rabies and monitored at home under quarantine for around 45 days. Animal control officers may visit your home to make sure you are following the quarantine rules and to officially release your pet from home quarantine.

For pets with current rabies vaccination, sometimes quarantine is not required but some areas require a quarantine of 10 days. The purpose of the 10 day quarantine is to determine whether or not the pet was transmitting the virus at the time of the bite. It does not mean the pet does not have rabies; it only means that the pet could not have transmitted the virus to the person bitten.

Rabies can take weeks to months to travel up the nerves to reach the brain. Prior to entering the brain, the pet is not contagious and usually does not act ill. Once the virus reaches the brain, and then the salivary glands, the pet is considered contagious. Once the virus reaches the brain, death usually occurs within 10 days. If your pet is normal and healthy at the end of the 10 day quarantine, then it is determined that your pet was not contagious at the time of the bite.

What To Do If Your Pet Is Bitten

If your pet has been bitten and the other animal cannot be located, your pet should be observed for 6 months to watch for signs of rabies. If he has not been vaccinated for rabies, you may be required to quarantine your cat at a veterinary hospital or animal shelter. Vaccinated pets typically can be quarantined at home. A rabies control officer may have to check on the pet periodically and officially release him from home quarantine.

If your pet has been bitten and the animal has been located, the above guidelines are recommended, based on vaccination status. If the animal is a wild animal, oftentimes euthanasia and rabies testing is recommended.

For more information or information specific to your geographic area, contact your veterinarian or local animal control/rabies control facility.