“The kitten was fine, he acted fine,” Duran said, noting the kitten never displayed any odd behavior.
The day before Thanksgiving, Duran and Holt brought the kitten to Harmon’s Tennessee Veterinary Care on West End Heights in Lebanon where he gave it antibiotics after suspecting it had leukemia.
After they took the kitten home, Duran and Holt brought it with them to their family’s Thanksgiving dinner where its condition worsened.
“He lost the use of both hind legs and it progressed to the point where he was very lethargic,” Duran said.
They brought it back to Harmon where he administered further treatment and kept the kitten at his office, administering fluids and monitoring its health. The kitten died on Monday night, Nov. 29.
Harmon sent the kitten to the Tennessee Department of Health where they determined it was infected with rabies. The kitten’s illness illustrated the change that veterinarians have seen in rabies over the years, Harmon said.
“People think of rabies and think of a vicious animal,” Harmon said.
Dr. Rand Carpenter, assistant state public health veterinarian, said that most cases of rabies in the past 10 to 20 years don’t involve this stereotypical view of animals with rabies.
“It’s a nonspecific neurological disease,” Carpenter said of rabies. “The new vision of rabies is that it’s unpredictable, it can imitate a lot of other diseases.”
Carpenter said that rabies affects an animal’s coordination, balance and causes paralysis and the animal will be unable to swallow. However, he said these symptoms can be seen in many other diseases and that veterinarians should always keep rabies in the back of their mind when diagnosing non-specific symptoms.
Carpenter said that in the past, more than 30 years ago, most rabies cases were found in dogs and it was a variant that was well suited for infecting dogs. That variant did cause aggressiveness in the animals and it was so common that the variant created that typical image of a rabid animal.
“The canine variant has been eliminated from the United States,” Carpenter said, adding the elimination of that strain is due to control efforts and vaccinations.
In Tennessee, Carpenter said there are three variants of rabies, skunk, bat and raccoon. In Middle Tennessee, skunk and bat are most common, with raccoon variant being in East Tennessee.
“Dogs and cats that are affected with skunk and bat variant are less predictable,” Carpenter said. Most just “check out,” Carpenter said, after they become paralyzed or lethargic and can’t eat or drink.
Carpenter said most rabies cases reported in Tennessee come from wildlife, and contact with rabid wildlife is the primary way cats and dogs are infected with the disease. In 2009, Carpenter said they had six rabies cases in Tennessee that involved domestic animals and 82 in wild animals.
This year, 73 cases have been reported in Tennessee and three so far in Wilson County, two involving domestic animals and one involved an infected skunk.
“She said when they picked (the kitten) up it smelled like a skunk,” Harmon said, referring to Duran and Holt.
Carpenter said they haven’t determined which variant of the disease the kitten had and that it would take another day or two to get that data.
Harmon and Carpenter said rabies vaccinations are usually administered between 12 and 16 weeks for dogs and cats. Carpenter said there are some products for cats that can be used as early as eight weeks, but waiting allows the vaccines to be more effective.
Holt and Duran have been undergoing treatment for rabies, getting several rounds of shots that have left them pretty sore. Duran also said that several of her family members who were in contact with the kitten over Thanksgiving have been urged to receive treatment as well.
The two also own other cats that are being treated or placed under quarantine at Harmon’s office to monitor their health.
“It was the first case I’ve seen in 24 years and I’m glad I didn’t miss it,” Harmon said.
Carpenter said the state health department always urges everyone to have their pets vaccinated and to see a veterinarian immediately if their pet is displaying any non-specific symptoms.
“We see less rabies now because of our control efforts in the last decade. It’s easy to become complacent,” Carpenter said.
Staff Writer Patrick Hall may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.