Understanding Feline Herpes

Feline herpes, also known as feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR), is a disease affecting the upper respiratory tract of cats and is caused by the feline herpesvirus type 1 or FHV-1. Kittens, senior felines and cats with a weaker immune system are more susceptible to catching the virus. The disease is incurable and can be fatal.

Symptoms of Feline Herpes

The herpes virus manifests aggressively in the first outbreak of the disease. If the cat recovers from the first outbreak, he will be able to control the virus. Outbreaks can occur if the cat is stressed, sick or pregnant. Corticosteroids will trigger an outbreak in infected cats. The virus will affect the eyes, nose, throat and sinuses of the cat.

The most common symptoms include:

  • Sneezing
  • Transparent discharge from the eyes and nose, causing loss of the sense of smell
  • Fever
  • Lack of appetite, due to diminished sense of smell
  • Lethargy
  • Ulcers on the tongue
  • Ulcers in the eyes
  • Inflamed tonsils
  • Stomatitis
  • Depression
  • Pneumonia
  • Panting
  • Dehydration
  • Anorexia

Secondary infections are common in cats with herpes.

If a female cat is pregnant and contracts the virus, she is likely to abort.


The virus may be transmitted from infected cats. There are cats that present no symptoms and are only carriers of the virus, and these can infect healthy cats.

The virus is shed and cats can catch it through saliva, mucus, feces, direct contact, and through contact with food bowls, litter boxes or bedding. The herpes virus can also be transmitted in utero to the unborn kittens.

Diagnosing Feline Herpes

Once you notice any symptoms of feline herpes, you need to consult a vet. The same symptoms may point to calcivirus, which causes upper respiratory disease as well.

The vet will take a blood sample, which will be tested. The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test is used to diagnose feline herpes. However, the test can be negative even if the cat is infected, so further testing may be needed.


Feline herpes cannot be treated. However, carrier cats can be given supportive care and live a normal life. Secondary infections must be supervised, and the cat will be given antibiotics. If there are outbreaks, these need to be monitored and possibly shortened. The cat can also receive antiviral drugs to prevent certain diseases.

If the cat lacks appetite, he needs to be force fed and fluid therapy may be needed to prevent dehydration.

Dietary supplements are recommended. Amino acids are typically prescribed to cats with the herpes virus. Consult your vet about some possible supplements and a change in diet to support the immune system of your sick cat.

The feline herpes virus is not contagious to humans, but cats can easily contract it. If you have a multi-cat household and one of your cats is infected with the virus, isolate the sick cat to prevent the infection of the others.