Ask the Vet: All About Rabies

with Dr. Amy Karls
What exactly is rabies and why should I be concerned about it as a cat owner/caretaker?
Rabies is a virus that affects the brain and nervous system of all mammals. The virus is carried in the saliva of an infected animal, and the main cause of transmission is bite wounds. Clinical signs typically develop 3–12 weeks after the bite occurs, but can appear anywhere from several days to several months later.
There is no way to tell if an animal has rabies by looking at it – the symptoms may vary from no signs at all to aggressive behavior and seizures. Rabies is almost always fatal, with no known cure. The only approved way to test for rabies is on brain tissue, which requires the animal to be euthanized in order to make a definitive diagnosis.
In Massachusetts, bats and raccoons are the most common carriers of rabies, though it has also been found in foxes, skunks, woodchucks, dogs, and cats. Nationwide, in 2014 cats comprised 61% of all positive rabies cases in domestic animals. Since 1992, more than 5,000 animals have tested positive for rabies in MA. None of the MA cats that tested positive for rabies had ever received a rabies vaccination.
How can I make sure my cat is protected?
The current rabies vaccinations available for cats and dogs are extremely effective in preventing the disease. MA law requires that all cats and dogs be vaccinated against rabies.
Kittens receive their first rabies vaccine at about 12 weeks of age. No matter the age of the cat, if it is her first vaccine, it will be good for one year. After this, additional boosters will be given, either at one year or three year intervals depending on the type of vaccine used. Only veterinarians can administer rabies vaccines in MA.
Minimizing your cat’s exposure to wildlife will also help decrease her risk of contracting rabies.
But my cat stays indoors – why does she need a rabies vaccine?
Besides being legally required, there have been many reported instances of bats or other wildlife getting into a house and exposing the pets and people to rabies. Since this virus is virtually 100% fatal, it’s better to be safe than sorry!
I heard there were some recent changes to the rabies laws in MA – what does this mean to me?
On July 30, 2016, MA officially updated their state rabies regulations. The changes most relevant to pet owners and community cat caretakers relate to vaccination boosters and quarantine procedures.
Under the old law, if your cat was overdue for her rabies vaccine, that overdue booster vaccine would only be good for one year, even if she had been previously vaccinated. Under the new law, if you can prove that your cat received a rabies vaccine at any time in her past, that booster vaccine will now be good for three years (if that is the type of vaccine used).
The change in quarantine law mainly affects cats that have bite wounds or injuries from an unknown source (wound of unknown origin) and are either overdue for their rabies vaccine or have an unknown vaccine status (such as feral cats brought to a spay/neuter clinic).
Under the old law, these cats had to be in strict confinement (often referred to as quarantine) for 6 months and could not receive a rabies vaccine until 28 days before quarantine was done. Under the new law, the rabies vaccine will be given immediately, and the quarantine is shortened to 4 months. The longest time on record in MA for an animal in quarantine to become rabid was 3 months and 2 weeks.
It is estimated that 750 – 1,000 dogs and cats will benefit from this shortened quarantine period. These changes will greatly reduce the stress on quarantined cats that are used to going outdoors or are feral.
Where can I get more information?

Happy Tails: Our Fearless, Fabulous Foster Families!

We usually feature a story about a cat in this section, but this time we want to pay tribute to the people who so often are responsible for many of our happy endings…the foster families of MRFRS!
13669360_10100127047278450_7981446956028335773_oIf you’ve been to our adoption center, you know that space is at a premium. We could never care for all of the cats who come our way if the shelter was the only location available to us. So, over time we’ve developed a compassionate and caring group of individuals who take in cats in all types of conditions: kittens that are too small for spay/neuter, cats or kittens that have URI or injuries, kittens who need socialization, adult cats who are sick or have injuries, “hospice” cats with terminal illnesses, or just cats who need a “soft place to land” for a while before coming back to the shelter or to their owner.
Foster Jane Tarr observes, “The shelter can only house so many cats and kittens before having to turn them away due to space constraints. Fostering enables the shelter to take in more cats than it can house, providing a second chance for many surrendered cats and kittens—many of which would have no place to go.”
13147339_10100106034877470_4122691982257801329_oWhat does MRFRS look for when identifying fosters for our kitties? Shelter Manager Brit Fox Hover outlined some of the requirements: “Foster homes need to have a separate space, like a bedroom or bathroom, for their fosters so that they are separated from their existing cats, dogs, or other pets. Ideally this space can be easily cleaned and disinfected between fosters.”
Just as importantly, Hover notes, “Fosters need to be patient with their cats and kittens, as the animals in their care have likely experienced a lot of change and need a soft, quiet, and loving place to land for a little while. Foster cats and kittens always need to be kept inside.”
There are a variety of other needs, such as transportation, good communication skills, and sometimes the ability to administer medicines or spend significant time socializing kittens. Right now, about 30 caring families are part of our fabulous foster network, and they all have stories about how rewarding they find it.
Betsy Davis states this eloquently: “The sheer number of cats (and dogs) euthanized in the U.S. every year is heartbreakingly staggering. Fostering gives me and my family the opportunity to validate and affirm the worth of each animal’s life, one life at a time. The gift of fostering to us is the chance to connect with the humane, generous, compassionate, and loving parts of ourselves. Plus, it’s unbelievably fun!”
Foster Jane Tarr agrees: “The most important reason we foster is that it makes us feel good!!  We have fostered at least 35 cats and kittens since we started in May of 2015. It is so rewarding when a terrified feral kitten turns the corner and relaxes, trusts, and starts purring. It takes lots of TLC and time but it is well worth it as they make sweet and loving companions.”
10628110_10205537954348222_865755611215697822_nFostering is not without its challenges, however, especially when dealing with the most vulnerable. Experienced foster Emily Fleming recalls, “I have fostered many challenging cases over the years, but one that sticks out is [a] kitten litter from last winter. I started fostering them when they were only 12 hours old after their mother rejected them. I didn’t expect them to do as well as they did, but all four made it and got adopted! My family ended up adopting Charlotte, the runt, who was particularly challenging, but she is now nine months old and is doing so well!”
Recently, one of our foster families made a video to assist us with a grant we were applying for. We think you’ll enjoy seeing for yourself how much time and effort our fosters put into the cats and kittens they help.
Think you’d like to be part of our fabulous family of fosters? Email Brit at to learn more.

Happy Tails: Coconut, A Day in the Life

Coconut in Blinds

Coconut’s story is a great example of how closely MRFRS works with local vets to help cats in need. This pretty white kitty was surrendered to a local vet, due to gastrointestinal issues that no one seemed to be able to solve. The vet tried hard to find the source of her problem, and then our shelter staff gave it a try, but this young and playful girl still had tummy troubles. So, we sent her back to the vet where they pulled out all the stops. Ultimately, they found that putting Coconut on a raw diet solved her issues, and she has since gained weight and turned into the healthy and happy kitty she was meant to be. Here is an account of Coconut’s new life with her adopted “purr-ents” and animal friends:

Butter & Coconut playing inbox

Coconut is an early bird! Her day starts somewhere between 4 and 5 am when she wakes up her people to let them know it’s time for breakfast. She kindly lets them go back to sleep after they serve her. Usually, she tries to trick them into giving her a second breakfast after they get out of bed! Her favorite hobby is eating and she LOVES treats. Most of her days are spent sitting on top of her favorite chair in front of the window, where she watches the birds outside and the chickens in the yard. She lives with her new friend, Butter (pictured here playing together in a box).
She gets regular visits from her doggie friends (all 4 of them!) who live upstairs. Her best pal is Brodie, a 120 lb. Great Dane/St. Bernard mix who always comes to the window to see if she’s there. Coconut is a very sassy lady, but is kind and gentle to her people’s little grandchildren.

Butter & Coconut eating together
Like all cats, she certainly has her funny little quirks. She moves her water dish around no matter how heavy it is, and she’s got a thing for bare feet and will bite your toes if you’re not paying attention. When she came to her new home, her diet was very strict and she was only eating raw rabbit. She’s now very healthy and eats a large variety of proteins. She is doing excellent with her raw diet! Her current favorite is chicken. She loves to play and is hoping to eventually have a third kitty playmate!

Ask the Vet

with Dr. Sam Simonelli
I’m wondering about my cat’s dental health…what are the important things I need to know or do?
Remember the Cheshire cat? Sitting up in that tree with that sparkly white smile? Wouldn’t you love for your cat’s teeth to be as beautiful as the Cheshire cat’s? With a little time and effort (and cooperation from your cat, of course), it can be possible.
Tooth brushing is the best way to keep tartar from accumulating on your cat’s teeth. Not every cat will be amenable to tooth brushing, but you can try using a small child’s toothbrush or a finger brush. You should never use human toothpaste, as the fluoride can be harmful, but pet-friendly toothpaste is available in yummy (to cats!) flavors like chicken and malt. You only need to worry about cleaning the outer surface of the teeth and the whole process can take less than a minute, no flossing required! Don’t forget to give kitty a reward for positive reinforcement. Your regular veterinarian would be happy to demonstrate for you.
Dental treats and diets are a good second choice for a cat that won’t allow tooth brushing. The pet store shelves are full of options that claim to clean teeth and provide fresh breath, so make sure to look for products that have plaque control and the seal of the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC). This means that the product was tested and proven to aid in oral health care. For more information, visit
When you bring your cat to the veterinarian every year, his/her teeth should be checked as part of the exam. It’s very common for cats over the age of three to have enough tartar to require a dental cleaning. Unlike us, for our animal friends, a cleaning requires anesthesia in order for the teeth to be properly evaluated. With your cat under anesthesia, dental x-rays will be taken, the tartar will be ultrasonically scaled off the teeth and they will be polished smooth. The teeth will be examined for fractures and tooth resorption, painful, cavity-like lesions that erode the enamel and root of the tooth. Resorptive lesions are a very common finding in feline mouths and require tooth extraction. If your cat gets a dental cleaning, make sure your vet is using dental x-rays! They are very important to making sure that any issues under the surface are detected and that any extractions are done completely, without any roots or tooth fragments left behind.
In addition to tartar and resorptive lesions, there are several more serious oral conditions that can be found in cat’s mouths. Stomatitis is an inflammatory condition that causes the inside of the mouth to become very raw and extremely painful. It often requires all of the teeth to be extracted and sometimes requires lifelong medications or special diets. There are also several types of oral cancer that affect cats; the most common are squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. These are usually very aggressive cancers that are difficult to treat.
Even though they seem minor by comparison, plaque and tartar are made up of bacteria that can lead to infection in other parts of a cat’s body, like the kidneys and heart. Taking care of your cat’s teeth can improve his/her overall health and longevity; you should consider it just as important as feeding and grooming. Be sure to enlist the help and advice of your regular veterinarian to keep your cat smiling as bright as the Cheshire cat.

MRFRS Catmobiles Reach Amazing Milestone

Here’s a haiku that we know you will enjoy:
Fifty thousand cats
spayed and neutered by our two
Catmobiles. ME-WOW!

CM2 Photo

When MRFRS first initiated the Catmobile program back in 2008, we had high hopes of making a contribution to reducing the persistent feline overpopulation problem in Massachusetts. But we never could have imagined that in fewer than 10 years, we would have performed 50,000 spay/neuter surgeries on owned and free-roaming cats throughout Eastern and Central Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire.
We reached that milestone in May, and have to thank our amazing Catmobile veterinarians, vet techs, call center staff and especially the wonderful clients who have brought their kitties to the Catmobiles over the past eight years for those spay/neuter surgeries. We also have been assisted by grants from many foundations that have allowed us to reduce our Catmobile pricing even further in areas or situations where the need is greatest.
Did you know that the Catmobile was part of a revolutionary movement in feline welfare to make high volume spay/neuter surgeries more accessible to cat owners? Former MRFRS Executive Director and current Board Member Stacy LeBaron tells the story:

“Back in 1998, Dr. John Caltabiano spoke at our annual meeting about his mobile spay/neuter clinic in Connecticut. When I heard him, I thought this was a game-changing idea and it always stayed in the back of my mind. Once MRFRS achieved the goal of purchasing our adoption center in 2003, our next big goal was adding the capability to provide help to owners who lack the resources to take their cats to a vet.
In 2008, we received a large donation from a private donor for a spay/neuter initiative. After doing a full analysis of all of our options, the MRFRS board voted on launching a mobile clinic. Dr. Deborah Brady, the lead vet, who had been donating her time to our Sunday spay/neuter clinics, was very interested in helping us launch this program. And so we were off in the fall of 2008.
Several years, later, MRFRS received a very generous grant from the Weiderhold Foundation that enabled us to purchase another vehicle. So Catmobile 2 hit the road in February 2012, doubling the number of cats and kittens we are able to reach.”


The Catmobiles rely heavily on word-of-mouth to broaden their client base, so anytime you can share our schedule and Facebook posts with your friends, you are playing an important role in the spay/neuter revolution by helping more cats get the surgeries they need, and reducing the number of cats coming into rescues and adoption centers.


For other ideas on how you can help spread the word about the Catmobiles in your community, feel free to reach out to our CM staff at 978-465-1940 or