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Feline Herpesvirus: Causes, Symptoms, and Solutions

Katelyn Son
By Katelyn Son
Medically reviewed by Ivana Crnec, DVM
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What is Feline Herpesvirus Infection?

Feline Herpesvirus: Causes, Symptoms, and Solutions

Feline Herpesvirus infection is also known as Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (FVR). This is an infectious disease that is caused by the feline herpesvirus type-1 (FHV-1).

Just like most herpes viruses, this pathogen is also species-specific. Therefore, it causes infections only in domestic or wild felines and can impact cats of all age groups.

Additionally, FVR can also lead to upper respiratory disease in cats along with conjunctivitis. This causes swelling of the tissues around the eye, especially in the lining of the lids and your cat’s third eyelid.

How does a Cat With Herpesvirus Look Like?

If your cat has the herpes virus, it will impact its nose, throat, and eyes.

Common symptoms also include sneezing, nasal congestion, conjunctivitis, excessive blinking, squinting, and discharges from the eyes and nose that range from clear and watery to thick and purulent (containing yellow/green pus).

Additionally, the virus might also cause keratitis, which is the inflammation of your cat’s cornea. This can lead to corneal ulcers. Furthermore, severe infections can also lead to corneal scarring or chronic “dry eye.”

Apart from that, other non-specific symptoms can also include fever, lethargy (tiredness), anorexia (poor appetite), dermatitis, upper respiratory tract infection, lesions, and enlarged lymph nodes. It can also impact your cat’s immune system during times of stress and might require supportive treatment in the form of topical eye drops.

While topical medicines can help relieve eye symptoms, cats with Feline Herpesvirus need a more systematic treatment approach.

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How Serious is Feline Herpesvirus?

The severity of the condition of a cat with Feline Herpesvirus depends on the cat’s overall health and age. Generally speaking, old & young cats, cats with co-existing chronic conditions, and cats with compromised immune systems experience more severe disease and clinical signs.

What Causes Herpesvirus in Cats?

Herpesvirus in cats, as the name suggests, is caused by a viral pathogen.

Feline Herpesvirus is more common in young cats (a few weeks of age) living in shelters and other crowded environments. Even if a cat who has contracted the virus and cleared the infection, it can still carry the virus for life.

Sneezing and nasal discharge are the most common symptoms. It can also lead to ocular problems and respiratory issues caused by stressors.

While the virus is contagious to other cats, it does not infect humans or dogs.

What are the Symptoms of Feline Herpesvirus?

There are some key symptoms that point toward Feline Herpesvirus. Infected cats usually manifest ocular disease. This includes conjunctivitis or the inflammation of the conjunctiva.

Furthermore, because of the cytotoxic effects of the Feline Herpesvirus, corneal ulceration is highly possible. Some of the typical symptoms include:

  • Ocular discharge (clear or green mucous discharge)
  • Redness of the eye
  • Squinting (blepharospasm)
  • Prominent swelling of the conjunctival tissues around the eye (chemosis)

In addition to ocular symptoms, cats with this virus can also experience other symptoms. These include:

  • Sneezing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Anorexia

In severe cases, Feline Herpesvirus can cause respiratory diseases like pneumonia. If this is the case, your cat will also have additional symptoms, including coughing and difficulty breathing. If you see these symptoms, it is best to consult a vet immediately, as it can be life-threatening.

How is Feline Herpesvirus Treated?

Feline Herpesvirus: Causes, Symptoms, and Solutions

Before making a treatment plan, the vet will perform a physical examination followed by more specific tests, such as PCR (polymerase chain reaction). This test can be used to identify FHV-1 from oropharyngeal and conjunctival swabs, as well as skin biopsies.

When it comes to the Feline Herpesvirus, the treatment is primarily supportive and dependent on your cat’s symptoms. For FHV-1 infections, there are no specific antiviral therapies available.

But some antiviral medications that are used to treat human herpesvirus infections have shown promising results in cats. An oral antiviral Famciclovir is used in cats to manage viral replication and help with clinical disease. Some veterinarians suggest using Cidofovir as it is a broad-spectrum antiviral medication.

Additionally, L-lysine supplementation is helpful. L-lysine (an amino acid with many health benefits) is available over the counter and works really well with cats.

If your cat has developed secondary bacterial infections, your vet might also prescribe antibiotics. These will be taken either by mouth or applied to the eye, depending on your cat’s symptoms.

Is Herpesvirus in Cats Contagious to Humans?

No, Feline Herpesvirus is not contagious to humans. In fact, the upper respiratory infections that are caused by Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis can only impact other cats in the vicinity.

Can Herpesvirus in Cats be Permanently Cured?

At the moment, no. There is no cure for the Feline Herpesvirus. The treatment goal is to reduce the frequency and potency of recurrences. It is a known fact that most cats respond very well to medical management and can lead normal lives.

Following excellent nutrition through a veterinary-recommended diet, reducing stressful situations, and following an appropriate vaccination schedule are your cat’s best defenses against this disease as they can prevent the reactivation of the virus and prevent an active infection.

How Long does Feline Herpesvirus Last?

An infected cat can leave saliva and other discharges that can contaminate the environment. The virus can last as long as the material is moist. The good news is that these secretions will dry up fairly quickly, which will lead to the death of the virus.

If your hands or other skin substances get contaminated with the virus, it will stay active for around half an hour. However, your cat’s belongings, like water bowls, litter boxes, blankets, cleaning cloths, and cat toys, will be infectious for up to 18 hours if the secretions on them remain moist. If the conditions are normal, the secretions will dry up in a few hours.

How Can I Prevent Herpesvirus in Cats?

When it comes to the prevention of the feline herpes virus, there are four facets to the solution:

  • Isolation of Infected Cats. If it is confirmed that your cat has the Feline herpesvirus, it is crucial that you prevent direct contact with other cats.
  • Decontamination. It is also important to decontaminate the environment. You can use a bleach solution (1-part regular bleach to 32-parts water) as an effective disinfectant. Ensure that the contaminated objects are soaked in the solution for a minimum of five minutes.
  • Minimizing Predisposing Factors. Keeping your cat indoors and avoiding contact with other cats can be a primary solution. Furthermore, keeping your cat’s environment clean can reduce the number of virus particles in the vicinity.
  • Regular Vaccination. Finally, the most impactful way to prevent the Feline Herpesvirus is with the help of vaccinations. Vaccines also prevent other diseases in cats, such as Feline Calicivirus and panleukopenia.