|About Transmission How does feline herpes affect your cat? Symptoms Diagnosis Treatment Can I catch herpes from my cat?|
At a glance:
About: Feline herpes is a highly infectious upper respiratory infection caused by the feline herpes virus (FHV-1). Kittens and senior cats are most at risk.
Symptoms: Eye and nose discharge, sneezing, fever, loss of appetite, drooling and corneal ulcers.
Diagnosis: Presenting symptoms and a nasal or eye swab sent for PCR testing.
Treatment: Supportive care such as nutritional and fluid support, remove discharges from the eyes and nose antiviral medications.
Prevention: Vaccination can prevent feline herpes.
What is feline herpes?
Also known as feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR), feline herpes is a highly contagious upper respiratory disease of cats caused by the feline herpesvirus type 1 (FHV-1). An upper respiratory disease refers to infections in the area of the eyes, nose, throat and sinus areas. It is similar to a cold/flu in humans.
Feline herpesvirus is the most common cause of upper respiratory disease in cats, kittens, cats in stressed/overcrowded environments such as animal shelters and multi-cat households are at increased risk. Once your cat becomes infected with the feline herpesvirus he will have it for life.
The first outbreak is usually the most severe. Once recovered, in the healthy cat the immune system usually manages to keep the virus in check, but there may be the occasional outbreak at times of stress (pregnancy, lactation, overcrowding, while boarding etc.) or sickness. Corticosteroid injections can also bring on an outbreak in the infected cat.
The distribution of feline herpes is worldwide.
How does feline herpes affect your cat?
The virus infects and grows in nose, eyes, sinus, throat, mouth, and tonsils of a cat which causes inflammation and fever. Due to the nasal discharge, the cat’s sense of smell is severely diminished, causing his appetite to wane, while the loss of appetite is dangerous in all cats, it is especially so in kittens.
Due to the damage caused to tissues, it is possible for a secondary bacterial infection to take hold.
If a pregnant cat catches herpes, it can lead to abortion of the kittens.
Feline herpes can be spread by direct or indirect contact, the virus is able to survive for up to 24 hours in the environment.
- Vertical: It is possible for the mother to pass feline herpesvirus onto her unborn kittens.
- Aerosol: Coughing and sneezing.
- Direct contact: Saliva, eye and nasal secretions.
Asymptomatic/latent carriers may shed the virus, which means that while they are displaying no symptoms themselves, they are actively shedding the virus and other cats can become infected.
- Fomites: Food bowls, caregiver clothing, litter trays, toys and bedding which have been in contact with an infected cat.
- Caregivers: Hands.
The incubation period is between 2-5 days. Symptoms include the following:
- Ocular (eye) discharge
- Blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelid margins and surrounding skin)
- Nasal discharge which may be clear and watery or thick and mucoid
- Loss of appetite (anorexia)
- Corneal ulcers which present as pain, squinting, sensitivity to light, cloudiness of the cornea
Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination of your cat. There are several other diseases with similar flu-like symptoms to feline herpesvirus although there are some slight variations. For example, calicivirus (which is also responsible for upper respiratory infections in cats) typically causes ulcers in the mouth, whereas feline herpesvirus causes ulcers in the eye.
Most veterinarians can diagnose feline herpes based on physical symptoms, especially if corneal ulcers are present.
A swab of ocular or nasal discharge is sent to a laboratory for PCR (polymerase chain reaction). This involves amplifying the virus greatly. It is possible for a negative result, even though the cat has feline herpesvirus.
Other tests he may wish to perform include biochemical profile, complete blood count, and urinalysis.
The goal of treatment is to give supportive care, manage symptoms and try to shorten the duration of the outbreak. Treatment also depends on severity and symptoms and may include:
- Keep the nostrils and eyes clear of discharges. Use cotton balls dipped in warm water to wipe away any discharge.
- Broad-spectrum antibiotics may be prescribed, these are ineffective against the herpes virus but may be used to prevent or treat secondary infections that may occur.
- Oral antiviral drugs such as acyclovir, famciclovir or ganciclovir for severely affected cats. Antiviral eye ointment for cats with corneal ulcers.
- L-Lysine is an essential amino acid which can suppress viral replication as well as inhibit cytopathogenicity. It is available in a palatable paste form from most pet stores and veterinarians. The typical dose of L-Lysine is 400-500 mg per day. Always speak to your veterinarian before administering supplements.
- Cats often lose their appetite if they are suffering from an upper respiratory infection. Offer him highly palatable soft foods such as the gourmet cat foods or poached chicken, warming it up slightly can help.
Uncomplicated feline herpes usually resolves within 7-10 days.
- Administer all medications as directed by your veterinarian.
- If you have other cats in the household, isolate the infected cat until he has recovered.
- Ensure the cat is receives adequate food and liquid intake. Nutritional support such as offering highly palatable foods, appetite stimulants or if necessary a feeding tube, as well as intravenous or subcutaneous fluids, may be necessary.
- Ease breathing and discharge with vaporizers, if you don’t have a vaporizer, run a hot shower until the room is steamy and leave your cat in the bathroom for 10-15 minutes.
- Remove eye discharge and crusting with gauze and a warm saline solution.
The feine herpes virus is fragile and can only live for 24 hours in the environment. The following disinfectants are effective against FHV-1.
- Bleach (sodium hypochlorite, calcium hypochlorite or sodium dichloroisocyanurate)
- Benzalkonium chloride and polyhexanide
- Virox, Accel – Accelerated hydrogen peroxide
- Trifectant or Virkon-otassium peroxymonosulfate
- Ethanol 75%
If a cat contracts herpes before receiving a vaccination, the virus will remain with your cat for life. Most of the time it is dormant (latent stage), but at times of stress or sickness, the virus can reactivate, causing symptoms.
No, you can not catch feline herpes from your cat, only domesticated cats, and close relatives can catch feline herpesvirus. There are several types of herpes virus to infect humans but they are not the same as feline herpes.
Yes, feline herpes is extremely contagious and carers must isolate cats with herpes to prevent transmission.
Can cats catch cold sores from humans?
Just as humans can’t catch feline herpes, cats can’t catch cold sores (which are caused by a herpes virus) from humans. All herpes viruses are host specific and do not cause infection in other species.
The best way to prevent feline herpes is to have your cat vaccinated. Kittens should receive their F3 vaccination at 8, 12 and 16 weeks of age, then receive a booster at 12 months followed by tri-annually after that or as your veterinarian recommends.
Image courtesy of Nottingham Vet School