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Feline Herpesvirus (Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis)

Feline Herpesvirus (FHV-1) is also known as Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis. It is one of the most common contagious respiratory diseases in cats. Unvaccinated cats that contract FHV-1 remain lifelong carriers of the virus and easily pass it to other cats through viral shedding. The disease can pop up again at any time, especially during times of stress, either causing respiratory issues or just shedding the virus to other cats that are not vaccinated.


FHV-1 usually causes acute sneezing with nasal discharge, conjunctivitis and corneal ulcers, as well as other possible health concerns. Herpes often causes eye loss in very young kittens; in fact, it is the main virus that affects the eye ball (cornea) in the kitten.

Oral Antibiotics, like Amoxicillin & Doxycycline, and eye ointments, like Terramycin® or Vetericyn®, are important to help prevent secondary infections and allow healing. Even with treatment, most cats will be lifelong carriers of the virus. Some studies estimate 70% of the feral cat population carries Herpesvirus.


Vaccinating for Rhinotracheitis is important for kittens as mortality rate and eye damage is much higher in kittens than in adults. Vaccination of recovered kittens also helps prevent the virus from becoming active in the carrier state. All cats will come in contact with FHV-1 during their lifetime so vaccinating is essential for protection.


Because Herpes is so common, breeders supplement kittens with L-lysine, such as Duralactin® Feline L-lysine and Enisyl-F® Treats, to prevent Herpes viral issues while they go through the vaccine series. Once the series is complete, the vaccine immunity will protect a cat if it is exposed to the virus.

For the chronic carrier and the cat that has reoccurring respiratory issues, L-lysine helps reduce viral shedding and disease relapse. Some chronic carriers shed with no issues, but others will show respiratory signs several times a year. Antibiotics with L-lysine will prevent secondary bacteria while the immune system gets the virus back under control. ImmunoRegulin®, an immune stimulant, has been used to promote resistance to Herpesvirus infections, but it has not been the magic bullet to remove the virus from the body as we all hoped for. It does help the animal that struggles with respiratory issues and is Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) negative.


Cats with respiratory issues cannot smell food and thus will not eat. Flushing their nose with saline drops and using Grizzly Salmon Oil on food to increase the smell is great help. Older cats often start eating once this is done, making recovery likely. Kittens may need to be tube fed as they seem to be affected centrally and have no appetite when fighting Rhinotracheitis.

As you can see, there is a lot of care and treatment in getting a kitten over Feline Herpesvirus, but good nursing care and antibiotics can lead to success.

If you need help, call us at 1-800-786-4751.

-Dr. B
Don Bramlage, DVM, Director of Veterinary Services at Revival Animal Health

The materials, information and answers provided through this website are not intended to replace the medical advice or services of your personal veterinarian or other pet health care professional. Consult your own veterinarian for answers to specific medical questions, including diagnosis, treatment, therapy or medical attention.

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