Caring for a Cat with Herpes Virus

The herpes cat virus causes flu-like symptoms. It's only contagious to other domestic cats, but there's no cure. If your cat contracts feline herpes virus, the most you can do is try to relieve the symptoms and lessen the severity of the outbreak. Here's what you need to know about feline herpes.

Feline Herpes Virus Explained

Feline herpes virus, or FVR, is an acute upper respiratory infection caused by feline herpesvirus type 1 or FHV-1. Feline herpes is the most common cause of upper respiratory distress in cats. It's common in kittens, and in cats who must endure stressed or overcrowded environments, such as those found in animal shelters. Once your cat is infected with the virus, he'll have it for the rest of his life.

The first outbreak is often the worst. Once your cat recovers from this initial outbreak, his immune system will keep the virus under control most of the time. However, during times of stress or sickness, your cat may experience another outbreak. Corticosteroids may also trigger outbreaks in cats suffering from feline herpes.

How Cat Herpes Infection Spreads

Your cat can catch the herpes virus from other cats even if they aren't showing symptoms. There are three means of contracting the feline herpes virus. They are:

  • In utero, when unborn kittens contract the virus from their mother.
  • Direct contact, when your cat comes into contact with the oral or respiratory secretions of a cat who is shedding the virus.
  • Indirect contact, when your cat comes into contact with the food bowl, litter tray, bedding or other belongings of a cat who is shedding the virus.

Dangers and Symptoms of Feline Herpes Infection

The feline herpes virus grows in your cat's eyes, nose, throat, mouth, sinuses, and tonsils. This causes inflammation and fever. Nasal discharge can cause a loss of appetite, which is dangerous, especially in kittens, who are especially prone to malnutrition and dehydration.

Secondary infections can occur due to tissue damage caused by the feline herpes virus. The feline herpes virus may cause spontaneous abortion in pregnant cats.

Symptoms of feline herpes infection include:

  • Sneezing
  • Discharge from the eyes and nose
  • Conjunctivis and sometimes corneal ulcers
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Ulcers of the mouth and tongue
  • Pneumonia

Caring for Cats with Herpes

Once your cat has become infected with feline herpes virus, he'll remain infected for life; there is no cure. Treatment involves supportive care to help your cat's immune system suppress the virus once more; you can relieve your cat's symptoms and try to shorten the outbreak.

You'll need to keep your cat's eyes and nose clear of discharge. Cleanse them gently with clean, warm water and a cotton ball. Your cat may need antibiotics to treat secondary infections that could arise. Antiviral drugs may help shorten the feline herpes outbreak.

Your cat will need to continue taking in food and water. If the outbreak is particularly severe, this may mean putting him on an IV drip, force feeding him or injecting fluids subcutaneously.

The amino acid, L-Lysine, may help to suppress the virus and prevent outbreaks. Speak to your vet before supplementing your cat's diet.