Pseudorabies in Cats-Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

What is pseudorabies?   Transmission   Symptoms   Diagnosis   Treatment   Prevention


Pseudorabies in cats

What is pseudorabies?

Also known as Aujeszky’s disease or mad itch, pseudorabies, which means false rabies, is an acute and highly fatal viral disease caused by a herpes virus (Su-HV1).

Pigs (swine) are the natural reservoirs of the virus but other mammals including cows, sheep, goats, dogs, rats, cats etc., are susceptible to infection. Pseudorabies is seen most commonly in cats who live on or around farms due to their exposure to pigs.

The name pseudorabies is due to the similarities between the “furious” form of rabies. The virus affects the nervous system and is typically acquired by ingestion of infected prey such as rats or uncooked pork. Cat to cat transmission doesn’t seem to be a problem.

The incubation period of pseudorabies is 3-6 days. Infection occurs after ingestion of the virus, entering the nerve fibres. The virus is almost always fatal in cats with death occurring within two days.


There are several modes of transmission which can occur with pseudorabies:

Direct contact:

  • Direct contact with an infected animal.

Indirect contact:

  • Eating prey (rats, mice) who have the disease.
  • Eating undercooked or raw meat from infected swine.


Symptoms of pseudorabies can initially suggest the cat has been infected with the rabies virus, however, pseudorabies runs a much shorter course.

Intense itching of the head and neck, which leads to self-mutilation as well as hypersalivation (excessive drooling) are the two most common symptoms of pseudorabies. Other symptoms may include:

  • Behavioural changes such as restlessness and crying, other cats may become lethargic
  • Shortness of breath
  • Ataxia (unsteady gait)
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Head pressing
  • Vestibular signs such as circling and head tilting
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea and vomiting are sometimes seen
  • Collapse
  • Coma


Diagnosis of pseudorabies is made by a complete physical examination and obtaining a medical history, including possible exposure to pigs or raw pork products.

Rabies and pseudorabies do have similar symptoms, however, there are also differences between the two viral infections. Rabid cats display aggression but cats with pseudorabies don’t and pseudorabies causes intense itching which isn’t seen in rabid cats.

Diagnostic tests: 

Routine bloodwork such as complete blood count and biochemical profile are usually nonspecific.

If your cat does recover, and this is rare, diagnosis can be made by measuring antibodies to the virus.

It is possible to isolate the virus from tissues which are collected at necropsy.


Other than supportive care, there is no treatment for pseudorabies and once infected, it almost always kills, usually within 48 hours.


As there is no treatment, prevention is of key concern. No vaccine exists for the disease, therefore preventing cats roaming, particularly in high-risk areas is of great importance. Pet owners must never let their cat eat raw or undercooked pork.

Is pseudorabies transmissible to people?

There is a small chance that the infection can be passed from cat to humans, and precautions must be taken when handling any animal suspected of carrying the disease.


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