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Herpesvirus in Cats

by Jackie

Herpesvirus infection, or feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR), is a communicable disease caused by feline herpesvirus type-1. This virus is species specific and has only affected cats, both wild and domestic, of all ages.


FVR is the most common cause of conjunctivitis, inflammation of tissues surrounding the eyes, and is a major cause of upper respiratory disease in cats. It may also cause keratitis, or inflammation of the cornea, which can lead to corneal ulcers.


The virus is spread by direct contact with saliva or nasal/eye discharge of infected cats.This means that an infection can occur when a susceptible cat comes into direct contact with an infected cat or objects (food bowls, water bowls, furniture or clothing) that have been contaminated.


Once a cat is infected with FVR, disease symptoms typically show in two to five days, though the cat is still contagious during this incubation period. Once the symptoms appear, the active infection will usually last about 10-20 days. All infected cats will become carriers of this virus, though most carriers will be latent. Stress and illness, however, can reactivate FVR and the cat will be infectious again. In most cases, the cat will have symptoms of a respiratory infection, though not all will. Symptoms include sneezing, nasal congestion, conjunctivitis, excessive blinking, squinting and nasal/eye discharge ranging from clear and watery to thick and purulent. Non respiratory symptoms to watch for would include lethargy, anorexia and fever.


All cats actively shedding the virus pose a risk to other cats.


When inanimate objects are contaminated, the virus can live on surfaces for as long as there is moisture. Any viral particles on hands or skin will usually live for about half an hour, while items such as food bowls, water bowls, blankets, toys or litter boxes can live for up to 18 hours if the secretions stay moist. Any object that has been contaminated can be disinfected with a bleach solution or a thorough wash with soap and water. 


There is currently no cure for FVR, and it will typically be treated symptomatically. Treatment will be determined by the clinical signs your cat is presenting. If the infection is affecting the eyes, it will be treated with topical eye medication. For secondary bacterial infections, oral antibiotics will be used. Cats with nasal congestion might benefit from a humidification treatment, such as keeping them in a steamy bathroom or using a nebulizer. Severe cases will require IV fluids and hospitalization.


In order to help prevent an FVR infection, make sure to keep your cat up to date on vaccines with yearly boosters. 

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