The Kern County Public Health Department urged people to make sure their dogs and cats are regularly vaccinated for rabies Friday after members of a Bakersfield family were bitten by a family feline who later tested positive for the disease.

A pet cat testing positive for rabies is very, very rare, said Dr. Claudia Jonah, Kern County's public health officer.

Kern County is endemic for rabies but it's usually detected in wild animals such as bats, skunks and raccoons, she said.

Some people don't get their cats vaccinated for rabies because they think it could harm their pet, Jonah said, but it's far more important that they protect their family as untreated rabies infections are almost always fatal.

The law requires dogs to be vaccinated for rabies and the shots last for three years, according to Kern County Animal Control. But there's no law requiring cats be vaccinated.

In the local case, two family members in southwest Bakersfield were severely bitten by their indoor-outdoor cat and when they went to the doctor for treatment, they received post-exposure vaccines, Jonah said. They didn't get sick.

Then the cat, which was euthanized, was tested for rabies and the results came back positive Thursday, she said. It was a shock.

As is typical, Jonah said, the cat's behavior changed before the attack; it became more and more aggressive without any provocation.