Feline herpes virus is one of the viruses most commonly responsible for causing an upper respiratory infection or URI in cats. This highly contagious virus affects most members of the feline family, causing what some refer to as the feline version of the human common cold.
The symptoms range from mild illness with sneezing and runny eyes and nose to more serious illness that results in the need for hospitalization and intensive therapy.
Common name: Feline herpesvirus is used interchangeably with feline rhinotracheitis.
Scientific name: Feline herpesvirus is used interchangeably with feline rhinotracheitis.
Feline herpesvirus can infect all cats but most commonly causes clinical illness in kittens under 6 months of age.
Feline herpesvirus is one of the most prevalent infectious respiratory diseases found in cats. Many people think of it as the cat's equivalent of the common cold in humans. Once infected, most cats remain infected as latent carriers for life, with mild symptoms recurring about one week after they are stressed.
Feline herpes occurs worldwide.
Clinical signs (primary)
Depression, Sneezing, Loss of appetite, Ocular and nasal discharge, Fever.
Clinical signs (secondary)
Conjunctivitis, Lethargy, Salivation and drooling, Eye and skin ulcers.
Organ system affected
Upper respiratory tract, Eyes.
Most commonly diagnosed by physical examination and history of exposure and clinical signs, Virus isolation, ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay).
Feline calici virus, Chlamydophila psitacci. Mycoplasma, Bordetella bronchiseptica.
Feline herpesvirus is one of the viruses that most commonly cause an upper respiratory infection or URI in cats. It is also referred to as rhinotracheitis. This highly contagious virus affects most members of the feline family, causing signs that lead many to refer to this disease as the cat's version of a human cold.
Signs of clinical disease range from mild illness with sneezing and runny eyes and nose to more serious illness with fever, depression, loss of appetite, ulcers in the eyes, etc., that results in the need for hospitalization and intensive therapy. Once infected with the virus, many cats remain infected for the rest of their lives, showing mild symptoms of disease whenever they are stressed.
Home care generally consists of management of the clinical symptoms. An antibiotic such as doxycycline or amoxicillin clavulanate may be prescribed to prevent or treat secondary bacterial infections that can cause more serious clinical illness. Discharges from the eyes and nostrils should be gently wiped away.
Cats who are reluctant to eat should be offered foods with strong aromas to overcome the reduced sense of smell, which may contribute to their refusal to eat.
Recovery is generally uneventful, though cats may show signs of the disease (sneezing and runny eyes) later in life when stressed. Care should be taken in multicat households to wash hands and clothing after handling the infected cat, as the disease can be spread to other cats by contact with contaminated objects.
If the cat becomes lethargic or feverish, loses her appetite or develops a thick nasal or ocular discharge, professional care and hospitalization may be necessary. Fluids, injectable antibiotics, forced feeding and aerosol therapy that cannot be offered effectively at home may be provided. Special eye medications may be necessary to treat the eye ulcers, as well as other antiviral drugs.
Feline herpesvirus is normally included with panleukopenia and calicivirus in the routine FVRCP vaccination given to most kittens and cats. It should be emphasized that while the vaccine does not prevent infection, it does lessen the severity of the disease.
It should be given every 3 weeks initially until the kitten reaches 3 months of age, a year later and every 3 years after that. It is also available as a separate intranasal vaccine that may be used in catteries and shelters or prior to placing a cat in a boarding facility. The intranasal vaccine does sometimes cause sneezing and runny eyes as a side effect.
The prognosis for recovery for the majority of cats with an uncomplicated case of feline herpesvirus is usually fairly good. However, recovered cats that are stressed may show recurrent signs of the disease throughout their lives. They may or may not need treatment based on the severity of these signs.
Gaskell, R., Dawson, S., and Radford, A. Feline Respiratory Disease. In: Greene, C.E., ed. Infectious Diseases of the Dog and Cat, 3rd Ed. W.B. Saunders Elsevier, 2006; 145-154.
Lila Miller, DVM
Steven Hansen, DVM, MS, MBA
© 2007. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)