What Is Cat Herpes?
Cat herpes is a contagious virus. It can cause cat flu and other respiratory infections in both wild and domestic cats.
What Are the Symptoms of Cat Herpes?
There are many different symptoms of feline (cat) herpes. Most symptoms can last two to three weeks but the virus may lay dormant inside the cat’s body for years.
In many cats, this causes no problems. But sometimes feline herpes returns occasionally throughout the cat's life, especially in times of illness or stress.
Some of the signs of feline herpes include the following.
Upper Respiratory Infection
Upper respiratory infections may include symptoms like:
- Eye discharge
- Pink eye
- Nasal discharge
- Pain or irritation in the throat
- Loss of appetite
Keratitis is uncommon, but long-term feline herpes may cause infection and inflammation in the front of the eyes of a cat.
FHV-associated dermatitis is a rare infection of the feline herpes virus that affects the skin. This infection can cause inflammation and ulcers around the cat’s nose and mouth and sometimes in other areas like the front of the legs.
How Do Cats Get Herpes?
Cats can get herpes in several different ways. Some of the most common ways the virus is transmitted include:
- Direct contact (when cats make contact with saliva, eye, or nasal discharge)
- Breathing in sneeze droplets from an infected cat
- Sharing food bowls or litter boxes
- Living in an environment that has been contaminated (grooming tools, bedding, etc.)
- Transmission from mother to kittens during their first few weeks of life
The cat herpes virus is very contagious. It’s often transmitted in environments where many cats live together (such as shelters or multi-cat households).
Which Cats Are Prone to the Herpes Virus?
All cats, regardless of age, size, or breed, are at risk of getting the herpes virus. However, certain risk factors increase the likelihood that your cat will get cat herpes:
- Living in a crowded environment with many other cats
- Stressful living conditions
- A weakened or compromised immune system
Can Human Beings or Dogs Catch Herpes from Cats?
No, people and dogs cannot catch herpes from cats. However, cats can catch herpes from other cats.
How Is Cat Herpes Treated?
Cat herpes can be treated with a few different antiviral drugs. Some of the most common options include:
- Systemic antiviral therapy: This uses a human anti-herpes antiviral drug, also known as Famciclovir, that has been proven to be safe in cats. It is given by mouth and helps manage severe infections.
- Topical ocular antiviral therapy: These anti-herpes drugs, known as idoxuridine, trifluridine, and cidofovir, can be used as eye drops in treating cat herpes. Eye drops are usually given daily and sometimes combined with other treatment options.
- Nursing care or hospitalization: In severe cases, your veterinarian may recommend that your cat is hospitalized so they can receive nutritional support or intravenous fluid therapy (a medical treatment that delivers fluid directly into the cat’s veins).
Bacterial infections often complicate cat herpes. Combined with antibiotics, supportive treatment for your cat is essential for their recovery. With the right medication and care, your cat can live a long and healthy life.
How Can Cat Herpes Be Prevented?
Get your cat vaccinated. Starting at about six to eight weeks of age, veterinarians recommend vaccinating your kitten. At one year old, your cat should receive a booster shot and additional booster shots every year after.
Although the vaccine doesn’t prevent cat herpes, it can significantly reduce the disease's severity.
What Should I Do If I Think My Cat Has Herpes?
If your cat is experiencing some symptoms of cat herpes, talk to your veterinarian right away. They can help identify what medical treatment options will work best. They’ll also let you know if your cat will need nursing care or hospitalization.
How Can I Reduce Flare-Ups?
Flare-ups of the cat herpes virus are commonly treated with ointments or eye drops. Your veterinarian may recommend giving your cat amino acid supplements to boost their immune system.
You can also help your cat reduce flare-ups by providing them with a clean, comfortable environment. All bedding and blankets for your cat should be washed regularly. Bowls, trays, and litter boxes should be cleaned daily and kept in an area that is easy for your cat to access.
How Can I Help My Infected Cat Feel Better?
When your cat is infected with cat herpes, it can be a stressful time for them and you. Luckily there are a few things you can do to help your cat feel better:
- Create a clean, comfortable, and quiet environment where your cat can rest peacefully.
- Ensure your cat can access fresh water and a clean bowl every day.
- Follow directions from your veterinarian and administer medications or eye drops as prescribed.
If you have other questions or concerns about your cat’s health, contact your veterinarian for advice and support.