Feline Herpes Virus

Is your feline friend bothered by recurring conjunctivitis?  Feline herpes virus (FHV-1) may be to blame.  FHV-1 is widespread in the general cat population and is transmitted by close contact with infected cats.  It is highly contagious, making cat-crowded environments perfect places for HFV-1 to thrive.  The virus can remain viable for up to 18 hours, so infected bedding and kennels can also easily lead to an outbreak.

Seeing the Signs

Unfortunately, kittens are most susceptible to FHV-1, especially when maternal antibodies start waning at eight to twelve weeks.  Because so many kittens end up in shelters, many of them are exposed before they can be adopted.

Once infected with FHV-1, kittens and cats develop conjunctivitis.  Reddened, swollen, itchy eyes with increased discharge are the hallmark symptoms, and in viral cases, painful corneal ulcers may develop.  Most cats recover within two weeks, but severe cases may take longer.

After the first infection, more than 80% of infected cats become latently infected, meaning the virus does not completely vanish.  About have of them will have recurring infections, as the virus reactivates spontaneously or in response to stress.  Infections typically show up about a week after a stressful event, such as travel, boarding or the use of steroids, which can suppress the immune system.  The affected cat will be contagious to fellow felines for one to two weeks, but healthy adult cats probably have immune systems strong enough to withstand the threat – but that is not always the case!

The diagnosis of FHV-1 is often a presumptive diagnosis, meaning it is treated based on specific symptoms rather than test results.  Anti-viral medications may be needed in severe cases, when the disease may lead to blindness.

Sight for Sore Eyes

Cats with recurring conjunctivitis may show symptoms in both eyes or in only one eye (it tends to be the same eye each time).  Antibiotics will not kill the virus, but where there is also a bacterial infection, antibiotic drops may be prescribed for the eyes

There is no cure for latent viral infection, and there is no prevention for uninfected cats.  However, supportive therapy may shorten the disease’s life:

* L-lysine:  This amino acid, which inhibits the replication of FHV-1, is available as a powder you can sprinkle on food and as tempting treats.

* Interferons:  These proteins are produced by cells in response to viruses.  When given to affected cats, they seem to limit the infection of healthy cells.