Feline Herpes Virus

Authored By -
Matthew J. Chavkin, DVM, MS
- Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists

Tanja Nuhsbaum, DVM, MS
- Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists

What is the Feline Herpes Virus (FHV)?

The feline herpes virus most commonly infects kittens and causes sneezing, ocular and nasal discharge, and a reluctance to eat and play. With good nursing care, the vast majority of kittens return to normal within three weeks. Vaccinated kittens may still develop the disease, but the illness is less severe. Approximately 80% of FHV infected cats become latent carriers with a 45% chance of viral re-activation. Adult cats with eye disease due to FHV are more likely to be suffering from viral re-activation than from a primary FHV infection.

What Happens When The Virus is Re-Activated?

The feline herpes virus can hide quietly in your cat's nerve roots. During periods of stress, the virus can travel down the nerves and injure the conjunctiva and cornea in one or both eyes. Affected cats begin squinting, tearing, and may paw at the eye(s). Some cats may also sneeze, stop eating, and feel poorly.

What Stressful Events May Precipitate Viral Re-Activation?

The three most common stressful events that cause FHV re-activation are:

  1. a new cat or dog is brought into the household
  2. your cat is moved to a new household
  3. you go away on vacation

Basically, anything that alters the normal daily routine of your cat may permit viral re-activation.

How Should FHV be Treated?

The severity of the disease and the eye structures involved will determine the treatment. Acyclovir is an oral antiviral that may be used to control FHV. Topical antivirals include Idoxuridine and Betadine eye drops. L-lysine (an amino acid) works to prevent future attacks in some cats. L-lysine can be purchased over-the-counter at GNC and other nutrition stores. The proper dose of L-lysine for a cat is 1000mg each day orally with food. Sometimes surgery is required to repair the damage done by the virus.

Will the Virus Come Back?

Topical and systemic antiviral medications can control FHV, but they cannot completely eliminate the virus from your cat's body. Early treatment arrests the disease before it becomes severe.

This article is reprinted with permission from Matthew J. Chavkin, DVM, MS
Copyright © Veterinary Referral Center of Colorado - Ophthalmology (VRCC)
3550 S. Jason St.
Englewood, Colorado 80110
(303) 874-2070

One Comment on “Feline Herpes Virus”

  1. I am so sorry to hear what happened to your kitty. However I am happy to hear she is recovering and will go on to her new home. Thank you for the very informative article. I appreciate your transparency. I am not a breeder . My family is 4 Persian cats and I look forward to your news letters and sharing your experiences. Thank you for all you do.

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