Herpes virus infections are an extremely common cause of cold-like symptoms in cats. The virus is highly contagious and is most commonly seen in young kittens or in cats that are grouped together, for example in shelters. The disease caused by herpes virus in cats is also called feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR).
Typical clinical signs include fever, sneezing, discharge from the eyes and nose, red and swollen eyes, and ulcers that can affect the surface of the eyes, the mouth or the skin. Other viruses and bacteria can cause similar symptoms, but in many cases identifying the specific microorganism that is to blame is unnecessary, as most cats will recover uneventfully with similar treatment. Laboratory testing can provide a definitive diagnosis in cases that fail to resolve as expected.
For a typical case of herpes virus, supportive care, including keeping the cat's eyes and nose clear of discharge and encouraging it to eat and drink is all that is necessary for a full recovery. More severely affected cats may also need antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections, pain relief, eye ointments, fluid therapy and nutritional support. Some cats that have been infected with herpes virus can have flare-ups of the disease at time of stress throughout their lives. Treatment with lysine may help lessen the frequency and severity of these relapses. Vaccination against herpes virus helps prevent or lessen the severity of this respiratory disease and is part of the routine vaccination protocol for all kittens and adult cats.
Written by: Jennifer Coates, DVM
Last reviewed: October 2, 2008