Feline Herpes Eye Infection

Feline herpes is a common cause of cat flu, but it can also cause viral conjunctivitis. Feline herpes causes an initial outbreak, and then the virus retreats to the nerve endings, where it lies dormant. Normally, your cat's immune system can hold this virus in check, but when the immune system is compromised by illness or stress, outbreaks of herpes conjunctivitis can occur. Here's what your should know about feline herpes conjunctivitis.

Cause of Feline Herpes Conjunctivitis

Feline herpes eye infection is usually caused by feline herpesvirus-1 (FHV-1). This same virus is responsible for the illness known as rhinotracheitis, or cat respiratory flu. 

Cats of all ages and breeds are vulnerable to FHV-1 infection. Cats a highest risk for infection include kittens born to infected mothers, pregnant or lactating cats and ill or unvaccinated cats. Cats become more vulnerable to this virus when they're forced to live in close conditions, such as in a boarding or breeding kennel or shelter. Physical and psychological stress can make cats more vulnerable to this virus, as can low quality sanitation, malnutrition and lack of ventilation in the living environment.

Symptoms and Treatment of Feline Herpes Eye Infection

Symptoms of feline herpes viral conjunctivitis include squinting, redness and inflammation of the conjunctiva of the eye and discharge from the eye. Cats may also show upper respiratory symptoms like sneezing, nasal discharge and wheezing.

Your vet can diagnose feline herpes conjunctivitis through a physical exam, though a swab of your cat's eye discharge may be taken and examined to verify herpes virus infection. Be sure to tell your vet if your cat has recently been exposed to crowded living conditions with other cats, or if your cat has come into contact with an infected cat. Be sure to tell your vet if your cat has had any past incidences of viral conjunctivitis.

Treating Feline Herpes Conjunctivitis

Your vet may prescribe oral interferon as an antiviral medication to help your cat's immune system suppress the feline herpes virus. Antiviral eye drops can help relieve the symptoms of infection, and antibiotics may be prescribed to treat any secondary infections. There's no cure for feline herpes, and your cat will remain infected for the rest of his life. 

You can minimize your cat's chances of having another feline herpes virus outbreak by making sure he gets adequate nutrition, and by keeping his living area and litter box clean and sanitary. Try to keep your cat's life as stress free as possible, since physical and psychological stress can weaken the immune system and lead to feline herpes virus outbreaks. Make sure your cat gets plenty of exercise and adequate veterinary care when he gets sick. When your cat becomes ill, his immune system will no longer be able to keep the herpes virus in check, and he'll be more likely to suffer recurrent symptoms.

If your cat has feline herpes virus, keep him away from other cats as much as possible. Feline herpes is very contagious.