Feline Herpes Conjunctivitis

Feline herpes is a very common contagious disease that affects the eyes of cats, causing viral conjunctivitis. The disease is caused by the feline ocular herpesvirus, FHV-1. Untreated feline herpes related conjunctivitis can lead to permanent eye damage, vision loss and blindness. In extreme cases, an infected eye may need to be surgically removed.

Feline Herpes Conjunctivitis Is Contagious to Other Cats

Feline ocular herpes is highly contagious to other cats, and vets estimate that as many as 90% of cats are already infected with the disease. A large number of infected cats acquire the disease from their mothers at birth.

Most cats infected with the FHV-1 virus never show symptoms, but remain carriers, able to spread the virus to others. Very young animals, geriatric animals and cats with immune diseases are at increased risk of flare ups and serious complications if they become infected with feline herpes conjunctivitis. Cats spread this disease through direct contact with nasal discharge. Cats living in close quarters, such as in multi-cat households and kennels, will catch this disease if just one cat is infected.

Feline ocular herpes isn't contagious to humans or other animals.

Symptoms of Feline Ocular Herpes Infection

Infection with the feline ocular herpesvirus causes swelling of the eye, conjunctivitis, discharge from the eye and clouding of the cornea. Your cat may squint excessively and seem to be suffering from vision impairment. He may develop upper respiratory symptoms like sneezing and nasal discharge. He may become lethargic and lost his appetite.

Diagnosing Feline Herpes Conjunctivitis

Vets don't have a reliable test that checks specifically for feline herpes conjunctivitis, so your vet will diagnose the condition by ruling out the possibility that other illnesses that could be causing your cat's symptoms. If your cat is otherwise healthy, uninjured and free from birth defects, your vet will make a diagnosis of feline ocular herpes.

Managing Feline Herpes Conjunctivitis

Feline herpes conjunctivitis can't be cured, though the disease may remain dormant for years following the initial outbreak. Many cats experience only one initial outbreak of feline ocular herpes and then never experience symptoms of the disease again. However, the cat will always carry the virus and be capable of spreading it to other cats.

Vets usually treat outbreaks of feline ocular herpes with a combination of oral and topical medications. These medications are intended to increase eye lubrication, relieve your cat's pain and clear up any secondary bacterial infections. If your cat is suffering from a serious outbreak but is otherwise in good health, your vet may prescribe antivirals to help him cope with the outbreak. If the outbreak is quite severe, your cat may need surgery to remove the affected eye.

Complications associated with feline ocular herpes include scarring and degeneration of the cornea, both of which can cause vision loss. Your cat's eyes may water excessively following an outbreak.

Kittens have been known to die from outbreaks of FHV-1, though it's rare for adult cats who have received treatment to die from this disease. Keep your cat's environment and life as free as possible from stress to prevent flare ups.