I Need a Bitey, Feral Cat to Leave My Yard!
November 2, 2014 8:33 PM   Subscribe

A feral cat got into a fight with my dog in the yard, bit me, and now--several hours later--is staring into the house with my blood dripping from its mouth. How do I get this animal to leave without hurting it?

A few hours ago, my dog got into a tussle with a feral cat in my yard. I managed to get the dog inside without either of the animals getting hurt. Cats often explore my yard, but they always jump onto the fence or up a ladder to escape once they see the dog, so I felt it would be safe to let him out again an hour later. This particular cat wanted a fight and had returned; when I opened my back door to get the dog, the cat jumped onto to the door frame and just hung there, just out of the dog's reach, while I tried to get the dog away.

Naturally, this ended with the cat biting me while still clinging to the door frame; a friend somehow shooed the cat off the door while I wrapped my hand and prepared to go to the ER for a proper cleaning and a tetanus shot. The cat's been standing on our back stoop and staring into the house since then. It literally has its blood dripping down my face. It's been several hours; I've gone to and returned from the hospital.

My friend called animal control, but they're not very concerned. We're worried the cat may be hurt, but it doesn't seem to be. It's just kind of walking around the yard in between intense gazes at the door. There's a fairly healthy feral cat colony here, and we don't want this cat to be trapped and destroyed or anything. It's very unlikely it has rabies. We just want it out of our yard so our dog can go out again. How do we get this cat away? Why on earth doesn't it want to go?
posted by pineappleheart to Pets & Animals (61 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: This is in Brooklyn, if it matters.
posted by pineappleheart at 8:35 PM on November 2, 2014

Do you have any way to generate an extremely loud noise (think air horn) or some way to blow air at it? I'm no feral cat expert, but that's what we do when we want our house cat to get away from something potentially troublesome. Getting it to run away seems like the safest thing for both of you at this point.
posted by Itaxpica at 8:37 PM on November 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

It may be very unlikely that it has rabies, but you should probably get a rabies vaccination series. NY may have a program that will get you the vaccinations for free. I know someone who woke up in a room with a (normal-acting) bat, in upstate NY, and had to get the vaccination series (it was in another county; not sure if the state or county paid for it).

In any case, you don't want to take a chance. Once you show symptoms of rabies, you're pretty much dead. There's no scenario where wait-and-see is a good strategy.

For deterring the cat, you might want to get a motion-activated sprinkler.
posted by amtho at 8:41 PM on November 2, 2014 [18 favorites]

The behavior is territorial but also does remind me of animals I have seen with rabies. Does he seem disoriented at all? Why do you think the rabies risk is low? Might be worth another few calls to describe the behavior to animal control.
posted by littlewater at 8:43 PM on November 2, 2014 [12 favorites]

Please get a rabies shot. I also don't really understand why you are so determined that you don't want this cat to be put down. It sounds like a really dangerous animal. And I am a confirmed cat lady (currently share my bed with two cats), so I don't take putting them down lightly.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 8:44 PM on November 2, 2014 [16 favorites]

Response by poster: The ER doctors feel it's very unlikely the cat is rabid since it was aggressive only when provoked (and initially tried to show my dog it was submissive before I got the dog away the first time). I talked to the doctors about getting a rabies shot, but they just felt it was unnecessary. I don't know who to trust about a rabies shot if not a doctor.
posted by pineappleheart at 8:48 PM on November 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

The raccoon I encountered with rabies definitely were not aggressive and spent a lot of time hanging out staring at my house before animal control took him away. This was a rural area with pretty common rabies, and no one was surprised by a calm raccoon with rabies.
I am concerned for you. I think this is worth a little more investigation by professionals.
posted by littlewater at 8:56 PM on November 2, 2014 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: . . . So who do I go see if not a doctor? Do I have to go back to the ER right now?
posted by pineappleheart at 9:01 PM on November 2, 2014

Can you call the doc and describe the cats actions and any symptoms? I'm concerned that his bloody mouth may be the drooling/frothing at the mouth of rabies. Is the cat disoriented or seizure-y? For a feral cat to stick around so long seems unusual.
Ask the doc how quickly you need to start rabies shots if needed. Can it wait until morning?

If you can capture the cat safely he can be tested for rabies. It requires euthanasia. Animal control will want him tested if it seems he may be diseased.
posted by littlewater at 9:15 PM on November 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

You say the cat still has blood dripping from its mouth. Does it seem like it's drooling or has an unusual amount of liquid or shiny stuff at the mouth? That would be another pointer to "reconsider rabies," to me. Normal cats would groom to remove blood from their face, I would think... and one of the symptoms of rabies is excess drool.

Looking at the rabies stats for New York State, there is active rabies in Westchester (like, every month they have a bat or raccoon with it) and there's been a rabid cat in Brooklyn a couple of years ago... so it's not impossible.

The doctors at the ER didn't know that the cat is still staring at your house, so that's a bit of extra info anyway. I have no idea if you should get the shot, but the cat's behavior does seem really unusual.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:16 PM on November 2, 2014 [13 favorites]

That is exactly how foxes with rabies act. Call Animal Control asap but find your dogs vaccination record before they show up or they will seize him for quarrantine. Animal Control can hook you up with a doctor who will do rabies shots Don't trust the ER doctor, they didn't see the cat. Cat is toast probably, sorry.
posted by fshgrl at 9:26 PM on November 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

Turn the hose on it.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 9:27 PM on November 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

Get a rabies shot. And you might want to check your dog, too.
posted by CollectiveMind at 9:28 PM on November 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

The NY dept. of health has a set of documents about this at their site.

It looks like you want the shots to start within 3 days unless the animal can be observed for symptoms. You should probably just call the DOH tomorrow. Also, if there is rabies in your area, people need to know (and that cat would need to be isolated from the colony, and the other cats vaccinated or verified vaccinated if they're not already, etc.)
posted by amtho at 9:29 PM on November 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

Also - warn your neighbors if possible.
posted by amtho at 9:30 PM on November 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Well, the cat's gone (Animal Control wouldn't come and I wasn't going to approach it again myself) and now I'm convinced I have rabies. What a fun Internet this has been. I don't have a primary care physician. Who do I call tomorrow morning? Who exactly is the professional expert for this I'm meant to contact?
posted by pineappleheart at 9:34 PM on November 2, 2014 [12 favorites]

I'm from Manhattan, FWIW.

There is a healthy bat population in our hood, and bats carry Rabies.

I'm not trying to freak you out. Just letting you know Animal Control's response was sub par.

Originally came in to tell you about Humane Cat Traps, but I'm now more concerned.

They (animal control) can test the cat, if they catch the right one. I believe this means the demise of the cat.

In your situation, I would probably want to know definitively before undergoing Rabies Treatment for myself and my pet.

Holy Sh$t. Don't mess around with this.
posted by jbenben at 9:42 PM on November 2, 2014

NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene on rabies. You can call them on 311. Hopefully they will be able to give you some good advice.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 9:53 PM on November 2, 2014 [6 favorites]

According to the NY State Department of Health, during business hours, in NYC you can call 646-632-6074 to report an animal bite; after hours, the number is (212) POISONS (764-7667) (I know, it's weird to call poison control for this, but they'll be able to help you.)

Your ER is obliged to report the bite to health authorities, as well, and should have been counseled about the risk. Here's the decision flowchart (pdf).
The prophylaxis isn't as onerous as it used to be - a shot of antibody followed by a series of four or five shots in the arm over the course of a fortnight.
posted by gingerest at 10:09 PM on November 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

Apparently there was a rabid raccoon who was fighting with feral cats in Brooklyn just this past August.

The NY state rabies stats page I mentioned earlier, and this NY City rabies stats page, only seem to go thru August. That page (and this one, which mentions the Brooklyn raccoon-cat thing at the top of the page) says to call 311 to report the bite and see if the city wants to try to find the animal. Based on there being that recent possible cat rabies situation, I would think if you can talk to someone at the health department who's familiar with rabies stuff, they will hopefully be able to give you better advice and maybe steer you toward a way to get treated affordably.

This CDC page describes how to approach a bite and it describes the recommended series of shots. The shots are expensive (probably more so at an ER, so if you can find a way to get them in another setting that would probably be cheaper? but the shots themselves are still pricy). CDC also has a page about financial help with the cost of the post-exposure shots.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:13 PM on November 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

If the cat might have rabies, you should probably double-check your dog for bites in case it requires treatment as well.
posted by delight at 12:02 AM on November 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've been looking for more resources on this. Here are a few in case they are helpful -

According to (1, 2): "NYS is unique in that rabies treatments that have been authorized by the county health authority are managed and paid for (after payment by third party payers) by county health authorities." So - assuming this info is still correct - if the health department determines a person has been exposed to rabies by the official criteria, the state pays for the part of the treatment that isn't covered by insurance. So moneywise, you'll want to talk to public health people, or be sure your doctor does on your behalf.

On p. 5 of this NYC rabies brochure, they say there is no need to begin the shots if the bite was from a healthy cat that is available for 10-day observation. There's also no need to begin the shots right away if the bite was from an ill or rabid-acting animal, if the animal is available for testing and results available within 24-48 hours. "Test results are available within 24 hours of submission to the Public Health Rabies Laboratory during regular business days." -- to go this route, someone would need to catch the cat in the morning and get it submitted to the lab as early as possible, to allow 24 hr test turnaround and still leave time to start the shots within 48 hrs of the bite. (I feel awful saying this, but catching and testing the cat quickly would allow you to conclusively rule out rabies exposure, and thereby avoid the very expensive treatment if it's unnecessary.)

So, the question is, was this cat "healthy" or ill/rabid-acting? You saw it and we didn't. Your description here sounds like strange behavior for a cat (not cleaning its mouth, staying in place for such a long period), and we're responding to that... but you and your friend will have a more full picture. And, if you or someone else can re-find the cat in the morning, you'll have even more info to go on about the cat's condition.

"The NYC Health Code requires that all animal bites be reported. The NYC Office of Veterinary Public Health
Services (VPHS) receives those reports... VPHS arranges animal capture and animal rabies testing if indicated. To report an animal bite or provide information about the biting animal, call the VPHS Animal Bite Unit at 212-676-2483, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday, or the Poison Control Center at 212-POISONS (212-764-7667) all other times."

So maybe calling the Animal Bite unit in the morning will connect you with someone who knows the latest info on feral cat/rabies likelihood in Brooklyn, and maybe someone who knows more about how to assess the behavior you saw from the cat.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:25 AM on November 3, 2014 [12 favorites]

This cat sounds rabid. Call animal control and have it tested. Call your doctor in the morning. If you don't catch the cat tomorrow morning, get the rabies shots for you and your dog, if the latter is necessary. Are you certain that if they catch a cat, it'll be the right cat? Are you certain as to what it looks like? Bad scenario: this cat is rabid. They catch another non-rabid cat. You think they caught the cat that bit you, and you think you're fine. You're not fine.

Good luck.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:05 AM on November 3, 2014

Yeah, there are limits to my willingness to defer to doctors, and rabies is one if them. I would definitely check in with the Animal Bite Unit during business hours, when the actual experts are there. I'm not saying you should panic, but it's worth a little follow-up when you're talking about an easily-preventable but fatal illness. Doctors do occasionally miss things, and in this case the stakes are sorta high. It's worth a phone call.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:57 AM on November 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Might be a good idea to update here eventually, for future readers' information.
posted by Namlit at 2:42 AM on November 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Note: the only place you can get a rabies vaccine is in the ER. Urgent care won't have it and a GP won't have it.

Someone I know was bitten by a feral cat recently and went through the process. You will be given a series of six or so fairly hefty shots in large muscle masses (depends on your body weight) like butt cheek, thigh, upper arm while in the ER. After that you will visit the ER or a hospital associated clinic a few times for additional shots over the course of a couple of weeks. The vaccine is no longer giant needles in your stomach. So go get the darn thing.

If you get rabies you die . This is why it is worth getting the vaccine even if you think the probability of the animal having rabies is low.
posted by sciencegeek at 2:50 AM on November 3, 2014 [6 favorites]

Defer to the doctors.
posted by Segundus at 3:41 AM on November 3, 2014

Seconding that is exactly how rabid raccoons (which are not cats, for sure) act: confused and slow. I encountered and watched animal control dispatch this rabid raccoon on my front lawn about 10 miles as the crow flies from Brooklyn in a fairly dense urban area in South Westchester. I have also witnessed, in my backyard, a raccoon attack a cat. Cat's are not raccoons, not all raccoons have rabies etc but still:

Talk to your doctor again!
posted by digitalprimate at 3:51 AM on November 3, 2014

I'm in no position to judge whether the cat was rabid, but if this had happened to me, I would be asking for post-exposure rabies treatment -- and I have already had the pre-exposure rabies vaccine.

Here in the UK, a rabies-type virus has been found in 0.00096% of all bats that have been tested over the past 30 years. All the bats that tested positive were of one species (out of 18 found in the UK), the Daubenton's Bat, which doesn't often come into contact with humans. Nonetheless, the official advice is that anyone who has been bitten or scratched by a bat should speak to their GP as soon as possible about post-exposure rabies treatment -- even if the bat seems fine, even if it is definitely identified as not a Daubenton's, even if the bite or scratch didn't break the skin. And this in a state health care system that does not like doling out expensive drugs unnecessarily. Rabies isn't something to mess around with.

IANAD, TINMA, but I'd get a second opinion.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 4:25 AM on November 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Okay, I'll call as soon as I'm at work; sadly, I must go get a paycheck but will attend to this once I'm at my desk.

I do have several pictures of the cat, so it can be pretty easily IDed. Very distinct markings.
posted by pineappleheart at 4:31 AM on November 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

My understanding is that the incubation period of rabies is such that you don't need the shot rightthissecond. I has them as a kid when a petting-zoo/farm pony I'd fed came down with rabies a few days later. I think I got the shots starting a week after I'd had contact. I think a local walk in clinic would be able to help or direct you appropriately. Try to get in at a place that's convenient for you, since you'll have to go in for a series of shots over the next couple of weeks. They're less fun than not having rabies but really no big deal. Good luck!
posted by tchemgrrl at 4:38 AM on November 3, 2014

I had the rabies series after trying to save a cat that had been hit by a car. It bit me out of pain while it was dying, and since we couldn't prove it wasn't rabid, the series was required. It wasn't so bad. Two shots to the butt in the ER the first time (the number is based on body weight) and then a series to the arm over the next few weeks. You need to keep to the schedule.

Also, take your dog to the vet. They will probably re vaccinate. They will also possibly put him on a home quarantine for the next couple months. Or at least, when my cat came home this summer with a wound to her paw that we could not prove was not a bite, that's what happened. It was 45 days at home inside. It would have been 6 months in a shelter if we hadn't been able to prove she was up to date on vaccinations. We got an official notice on our door and everything. This was in Massachusetts.
posted by instead of three wishes at 4:53 AM on November 3, 2014 [6 favorites]

I don't think you should worry about the cat being put down. Even if it's not rabid, it is dangerous, and it could hurt someone else's dog -- or child! -- in someone else's yard.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:00 AM on November 3, 2014 [7 favorites]

I too was bitten by a feral cat (Austin, TX). Very long story, (the cat was injured and I was trying to rescue it). I managed to get the cat into my car and took it to the city animal shelter for treatment. I too was convinced I had rabies, but the folks at the shelter made some very convincing arguments that I was not infected. Still, I was freaked out, so I can understand your level of anxiery. I already had a tetanus shot, so I didn't need one of those, but I did go to an urgent care center and the dr put me on some pretty heavy antibiotics because, according to them, cats have the filthiest mouths of any mammal.

The cat I took to the city shelter died from it's injuries :( and they did test it for rabies - it was negative. I'm pretty sure we have many more cases of rabies here in Central Texas (being more rural than Brooklyn), so I am pretty sure you will be just fine. Make sure you do get a tetanus shot (if you haven't already) and some antibiotics. We too have a very healthy bat population (the largest in the USA), and still rabies is very rare here.

I am surprised your animal control didn't care that the cat bit you. My city shelter filled out a bite report and everything. I would imagine this cat is a nuisance and should be captured and relocated.
posted by ATX Peanut at 5:51 AM on November 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just popping in to say that I had the rabies vaccine after an encounter with a bat and it was not that bad. As long as you are prompt about it, you will not get rabies.

I got a BIG shot of immunoglobulin right away, which felt weird and uncomfortable, plus three other vaccine shots at intervals that were like any other shots. They don't inject you in the stomach any more.

My cat also encountered the bat - clever kitty! - and had to be revaccinated. We were advised to keep an eye on her for, I think, forty five days, and limit her contact with non-family people...but they were not very concerned.

You will be okay. I know this is an enormous drag, but believe me - later on it will make a great story at cocktail parties. (You can also refer to yourself as "bat-proof".)
posted by Frowner at 6:24 AM on November 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

I've had the shots, too. Truly, they are not that bad, although a pain in the ass to acquire.

Your experience is a bit different than other people in this thread have had, because you don't have the cat to isolate. And you have a picture, so in theory the cat could be tracked down, IF you want to stake your chances on someone finding that exact cat. I would not do that, myself. It might not be a distinctive as you think it is. Especially if it has relatives in the area, who closely resemble it.

Also, doctors are great, but they are not animal behavior experts. An animal definitely does not have to be a hyperaggressive mess to be rabid. I'm a bit weirded out that they were so cavalier about it, because my experience is that they'll fill you with shots with much less provocation than this.
posted by Coatlicue at 7:48 AM on November 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm at the ER and awaiting shots. My bosses were more than happy to let me leave after I explained that I am probably rabid and dangerous. Thanks, guys! My ER docs and my boyfriend and family made me think I was overreacting when I asked about a rabies shot at the hospital, so I wouldn't be here if it weren't for you. Now I just need to get Animal Control to care.
posted by pineappleheart at 8:14 AM on November 3, 2014 [35 favorites]

It sounds like you need the above linked Veterinary Public Health agency involved, not Animal Control. Have you talked to them?
posted by fshgrl at 8:48 AM on November 3, 2014

Response by poster: New ER doc says it's really unlikely cat has rabies, is sort of laughing at my concern. She does not want to give me the shot. Wtf now?
posted by pineappleheart at 8:48 AM on November 3, 2014

Response by poster: It sounds like you need the above linked Veterinary Public Health agency involved, not Animal Control. Have you talked to them?
posted by fshgrl at 8:48 AM on November 3 [mark as best answer]
[+] [!]

No, not yet. They're my next call. Just sittin' on my ER bed, listening to/eavesdropping on the nurses sort of laughing off my rabies concern and discussing how much the shots suck.
posted by pineappleheart at 8:51 AM on November 3, 2014

Out of curiosity, which ER are you in? Please memail me and let me know.
posted by sciencegeek at 9:08 AM on November 3, 2014

Medical people are great, and in general I would defer, but they are not all-knowing, and they are sometimes wrong. This is a feral cat that was acting strange, unusually aggressive, came back to your yard seeking a fight, then was not grooming itself over a period of hours, with unusual liquid stuff at the mouth, and staying in one place staring for a period of hours, staring. In a neighborhood where there have been known cases of feral cats exposed to a rabid raccoon, in the last few months. It is not crazy to be concerned about that behavior, and they are wrong to laugh it off. (I don't know if you need the shots, but they shouldn't be laughing it off.)

The only thing I would suggest is, try to get some public health person on the case, because it might make a difference to whether this is really expensive for you or covered by the state. (It sounds like public health needs to approve the treatment for it to be covered.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:31 AM on November 3, 2014 [9 favorites]

I suggest calling 311. I'm really sorry this is happening to you. It sounds terrible. ER personnel can be jaded, but it's not okay for them to treat you like this.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:34 AM on November 3, 2014 [8 favorites]

I do not understand the response of your ER at all. In this area, any bite is treated very seriously. If a test can't be conclusively proven as negative (no body, body in a state where it can't be tested cleanly) then the animal is presumptively treated as a positive test, even if the odds are against it. And yes, the odds are against it, but you don't take the chance.

They are idiots. Insist, if you can. Make a fuss. Don't feel embarrassed about doing so, it's not their life they are risking, it's yours. The behavior of the cat you described was not normal.
posted by instead of three wishes at 9:40 AM on November 3, 2014 [8 favorites]

IIRC there is at least one ER in Brooklyn that is almost comically notorious for being, well, fucking godawful at everything an ER is supposed to do, and consensus is that nobody should go there if they can possibly help it.

I'm thinking you might be at that one.

Can you get to an ER elsewhere? There's no excuse for medical professionals brushing off a rabies concern in the case of a bite from a feral, drooling, strange-acting cat.

And no excuse for them to treat a patient so shabbily for ANY reason, though god knows I've been laughed at and mocked by my fair share of so-called "professionals" for such trifling, silly concerns as "pneumonia" or "whooping cough" or "alarmingly low blood oxygen levels" or "wow she's actually turning blue."
posted by like_a_friend at 9:41 AM on November 3, 2014 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Insisted on the shot and got it.
posted by pineappleheart at 9:48 AM on November 3, 2014 [66 favorites]

Hey, good work, kid. Best case scenario, you were going to die a painful and untimely death and you just dodged that bullet. Worst case scenario, nothing was wrong and all you got was some extremely valuable practice in advocating for your own best interests when death is on the line. So basically two best case scenarios.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 9:58 AM on November 3, 2014 [29 favorites]

You're good to go now so take care of your dog.
posted by tommasz at 10:33 AM on November 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

WHO post-exposure prophylaxis. Shouldn't you be receiving multiple shots?

copy and paste, couldn't make link work: http://www.who.int/rabies/human/postexp/en/

We just discussed rabies in depth at school (3rd yr vet student). You should be very concerned. We talked about the fact that human doctors tend to be very dismissive about rabies and don't really understand it, as it isn't emphasized in their schooling and isn't really common (for them).

Good luck!
posted by bolognius maximus at 10:39 AM on November 3, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'm glad you got the shot. I was just talking to someone the other day who worked in a clinic where a dog was diagnosed with and confirmed to have rabies. She said the dog presented with a strange motion in its mouth ... almost as if it had something stuck in its mouth that it was trying to dislodge ... and only after it snarled and tried to bite a clinic worker did the veterinarian begin to suspect rabies. the poor owners had just gotten the dog from someone in Craigslist.

anyway, my takeaway from that story was that rabies may not manifest in stereotypical ways ... a weird acting animal that bites you is cause for serious concern.
posted by jayder at 10:53 AM on November 3, 2014

Response by poster: Yes, will be getting more shots in coming days. Dog will be brought to vet and revaccinated.
posted by pineappleheart at 10:54 AM on November 3, 2014 [12 favorites]

Glad you got it. The ER people are being extremely cavalier. With a wild animal being aggressive, showing a lack of fear of humans and predators and drooling I'm shocked they acted this way. That's like textbook rabies warning signs.
posted by fshgrl at 12:36 PM on November 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Statistically it is unlikely that it has rabies, but given the situation I'm also surprised you encountered any resistance about getting the shots.

I can imagine a lot of ways in which the behavior just might be explained by the cat being trapped and terrified -- that's how my (still healthy years later!) cat bit me, more or less, when he was completely freaked out one of his first times outside the house. (Although the time I got the shots involved a bat.) The cat hanging around your door, too, could well be an animal with some domestic experience looking for its next meal ticket. If there were some way to monitor this particular cat over the next few weeks safely.... On the other hand, the "healthy feral cat colony" would soon NOT be healthy with one rabid member in its mix, so I'm leery to advise against public health dictates here.

I've had PEP and it isn't that bad. Modern rabies shots are nothing like the type from a generation ago with the big needle in the stomach. I just stuck to the schedule and got 'em. This puts me in better shape for any other suboptimal animal encounters, too. Anyway, the docs are sanguine because it really is that rare, so you have that going for you.
posted by dhartung at 12:47 PM on November 3, 2014

Insist, if you can. Make a fuss. Don't feel embarrassed about doing so, it's not their life they are risking, it's yours.

Quoted for emphasis. The professionals you talked to may have their reasons for their judgment, or they could have been in the grip of any number of a host of mistakes or biases that humans are susceptible to.

In any case, unless they're triaging a scarce resource, whether or not you get the treatment should be your call, because you're bearing the risks. You should listen to them explain their judgments and what went into them; they should let you make the decisions.
posted by weston at 1:38 PM on November 3, 2014

Like Periodictus potto, I live in the UK where there is essentially no rabies, and where most animals will be as friendly to you as you are to them.

If what you describe had happened to me, I would go to great lengths to get a rabies shot - I might even pay for it privately if I had to.

Simply because the behaviour of that cat was so abnormal. Attacking your dog, biting you hard enough to break skin, and then staring into your window drooling your blood? I'd demand my fucking rabies shot and I wouldn't care if the medical establishment put me in the middle of the Olympic stadium and live-cast me so an audience of a billion people could all laugh at me en masse.

Because it still wouldn't be worse than getting rabies.

(and I'd laugh right back when I turned out to be right, as I often do.)
posted by tel3path at 2:24 PM on November 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

to reinforce the idea of destroying that cat if it comes to it and there is a chance for capturing it - please don't hesitate. I cry every time a family pet has to be put down (including the situation I'm about to describe), but still regret not immediately taking a pet cat to the vet and having it put down after it went beserk on my wife with no provocation or mitigating circ (like an injury). Finally had it put down after one more mauling, and a bunch of ridiculous things the vet had me try. These situations rarely improve. As for a random cat that shows up in your backyard to injure you and your dog, please don't lose a minute's sleep if you, animal control, or some combination thereof gets a chance to trap it, test it, and/or put it out of its misery.
posted by randomkeystrike at 3:12 PM on November 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

The difference between the response of your ER docs and my ER docs vis-a-vis rabies bites is dramatic and now I wish I knew where each were coming from. I do cat rescue and have gotten bit twice and the ER docs immediately insisted on rabies shots. The first time was a tiny little bite from a semi-feral kitten who was terrified out of its mind because I'd been chasing it around the basement of an abandoned house (protip: this is not how you catch cats). The second was a friendly stray who really REALLY did not want to go into a humane trap and bit me in the course of struggling to get away. The likelihood of either animal being rabid was ridiculously low (there was no bizarre behavior like your feral kitty) but the ER docs emphasized the necessity of getting the full course in the first case and a booster in the second. I'm glad I've got the protection but man, it would've been nice to not go through all that.
posted by Anonymous at 5:31 PM on November 3, 2014

And for what it's worth both Novartis and Sanofi (the manufacturers of the two rabies vaccines used in the US) have patient assistance programs. You could apply and get the vaccines at a discounted price or free. If you have a PCP or local health clinic you could explain the situation and see if they can get the vaccine shipped there to administer to you, rather than paying the ER a billion dollars for each dose (when I got the cycle I was informed by the ER it would be $900 per visit just for walking in the door, on top of the cost of the vaccine itself).
posted by Anonymous at 5:38 PM on November 3, 2014

I'm glad you insisted and sorry you had to insist. If you want to talk to someone about whether you (or they) should be concerned about your ER's compliance with state DoH rabies guidance, you could call the DoH Bureau of Communicable Diseases directly - (518) 473-4439 or after hours (866) 881-2809. More on the policy here (pdf again). The policy dates from 2010 but is still linked from the first page of the website, most recently revised 6/13, so it's presumably still in use. It looks to me like yours is a border case - the animal was domesticated but unowned, it's not a vector species (raccoon, skunk, fox, bat), it's hard to tell whether the cat was showing neurological signs from the circumstances, and I would say circumstances don't show whether the cat was provoked or not because it was already so riled up by the dog's presence - but that doesn't excuse failing to consider the possibility, with all the more reason for them to call DoH, report the bite and consult the people whose job is to protect the public from communicable diseases.
posted by gingerest at 10:34 PM on November 3, 2014 [5 favorites]

Statistically it is unlikely that it has rabies

I think this assertion is untrue - and it at the heart of the problem with your ER people. The key statistics here is Bayes Theorem. The background probability that a cat in your garden has rabies is very low (and this is probably as far as your ER people's analysis goes). But if we allow that the cat bit you then the probability goes up a fair bit - and if we consider that rabid animals have been reported recently in your area, it goes up a bit further. Add in the rabid-animal-like description of the cat's behaviour and it goes up further still. Nate Silver's book "The Signal and the Noise" describes this effect with reference to the 9/11 attacks (as analysed here): the odds of terrorists crashing planes into buildings were vanishingly small prior to the first impact - a whole lot higher after that and getting towards certain after the second one. Those who recommended you get the shots above were right to be concerned.
posted by rongorongo at 2:12 AM on November 5, 2014 [9 favorites]

For anyone reading this thread later, things looked different in the continued discussion here.

pineappleheart ultimately regretted following the advice here to insist on a rabies shot:

I hope these medical AskMes get less hysterical. I still believe that people should defer to their doctors, and I wish I had. I am embarrassed that I was swayed by the responses in the post, and I'm embarrassed at the responses my post inspired.

IMHO AskMefi is alright for sharing experiences, but you should follow the advice of properly qualified doctors.
posted by Segundus at 5:49 AM on November 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

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