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  • Rabid Bats and Cats

    Dear Boo:

    I live on the 2nd floor of an apartment building here in Chicago. I was shocked the other day when I entered my building, and after retrieving my mail from the entryway boxes, I noticed a bat hanging on the ceiling above. I was in a panic! I had heard that bats could be carriers of rabies, and in talking to a neighbor in the building, she said that there was a bat (we think probably the same one?) in the corner of the ceiling above her 3rd floor apartment door two days earlier. My cats are up to date on their shots, and they never leave my apartment, but I wanted to make sure there was nothing more than I need to do. I know this bat has been traveling the hallway, so I know he could get into my apartment if he was in the right place at the right time. Thanks.

    Fascinated with bats, but worried

    Dear “Fascinated but Worried”

    Glad you asked. Bats are fast-moving little creatures, and as cats, we are always fascinated with anything that moves quickly. That means that if a bat is present, and it moves, a normal cat will try to stalk, pounce, play with, and eventually kill the bat. (This would be harder for me to accomplish with only three legs, but your 4-legged felines, being more adept hunters, could easily snag a flying bat). This can be problematic for cats, or anyone in contact with bats, since they are a relatively common carrier of rabies virus. Rabies virus can be fatal to cats, and it can be fatal to people.

    Awhile back (2009) my Cat Hospital people posted a news item about a rabid bat having been found in an apartment in a multi-unit residential building near us. I will review some of the details of that news item here. The two resident cats in that home, Chompers and Bitten (now, how do you like those names?!) awakened their owners in the middle of the night chasing and playing with the injured bat.

    Fortunately, the owners of Chompers and Bitten were knowledgeable enough to recognize the seriousness of the situation. They trapped the bat (put a box over it, as I recall) and contacted Chicago Animal Care and Control. Chicago Animal Care and Control removed the bat safely, and took the bat for rabies testing. The tests showed that the bat was positive for rabies virus.

    Although most lip ulcers in cats are not as severe as is this one, they can become very large, disfiguring, and a source of discomfort for the cat.   This kitty is on multiple medications, including pain medication, anti-inflammatories, and a special diet, in an effort to resolve his ulcer flare-up

    Fortunately, as well, Chompers and Bitten, like your kitties, were current on their preventive rabies vaccines. Their treatment, therefore, as per Centers for Disease Control and Cook County Department of Animal Control guidelines, only involved immediately giving each of them a rabies vaccine booster (to “boost” their immune response post exposure). The cats were also both under a “home quarantine” watch for the next two months. The likelihood of their ever developing rabies virus illness is very low. The owners of Chompers and Bitten did need to undergo the rabies vaccine post-exposure series.

    Had Chompers and Bitten not been current on their rabies vaccines, however, their protocol would have been much different. The Centers for Disease Control recommends immediate humane euthanasia for any unvaccinated animals with possible or known rabies exposure. Animals with expired vaccinations need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Longer quarantine periods or humane euthanasia are the two options in those cases.

    So, Fascinated but Worried, you do have reason to be concerned but you also have reason to be

    If you have a question for the Ask Boo column, please feel free to e-mail us at askboo @ cathospitalofchicago.com. Boo will do his best to answer questions submitted.


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