Feline Herpes Viral Disease

What is the Feline Herpes Virus (FHV)?  

FHV is an upper respiratory virus of cats. It is very common among cats, especially in environments with multiple cats. The virus most commonly infect kittens, where it replicates in the upper respiratory tract and the conjunctiva of the eyes. Nasal and ocular discharge and sneezing are the most common signs noted. Vaccinated cats may still develop the disease, although the illness is usually less severe. In very young cats adhesions of the conjunctiva to other areas of the eye may occur.

How do cats get Feline Herpes Virus Disease?

Most cats are affected as kittens, contracting the infection from their mothers. However, cats can get infected at any time in life. The virus is transmitted via secretions. You cannot catch your cat's herpes virus. The virus is species specific. Herpes virus infections in humans are caused by 'our very own' herpes viruses.

What does re-activation of the virus mean for my cat?

The virus can remain latent in the nerves that serve the eye. During periods of stress, the virus can become re-activated. Adult cats may experience recurring conjunctivitis or recurrent corneal ulcers in one or both eyes. If your cat is affected, you may notice squinting, tearing or pawing at the eye(s). Some cats may also sneeze, stop eating, and feel poorly. Other feline ocular conditions thought to be potentially associated with FHV infections include stromal keratitis, eosinophilc keratitis and corneal sequestrum.

What are potentially stressful events for a cat?

These are the most common stressful events that cause FHV re-activation:
  • a new cat or dog is brought into the household
  • your cat is moved to a new household
  • you go away on vacation
Anything that alters the normal daily routine of your cat may permit viral re-activation.

How is Feline Herpes Virus Disease treated?

Treatment highly depends on the severity of the disease and the eye structures involved. Eye drops and eye ointments may be necessary to inhibit viral replication and prevent bacterial infection. Life-long oral L-Lysine is recommended to decrease occurrence of future disease flare-ups. Sometimes surgery is required to repair damage caused by the virus and/or secondary bacterial infections. Reducing stress by maintaining a routine is important. With recurrences of the disease, periodic treatment is often necessary. Medications may control FHV, but they cannot completely eliminate the virus from your cat's body.