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.

What Causes Feline Herpes Flare Ups?

Feline Herpesvirus can pop up again at any time, especially at times when the cat is stressed. These feline herpes flare ups either cause respiratory issues or the cat may just shed the virus to other cats that are not vaccinated.

Feline Herpes Symptoms

FHV-1 in cats usually causes acute sneezing with nasal discharge, conjunctivitis and corneal ulcers, as well as other possible health concerns. Herpes in cats 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 and 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 percent of the feral cat population carries Herpesvirus.

How Often Should You Vaccinate Your Cat for Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis?

It is recommended that adult cats get revaccinated annually for feline viral rhinotracheitis. Vaccinating kittens 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.

How Does L-Lysine Help Cats?

Because Herpes is so common, breeders supplement kittens with L-lysine, such as Viralys® gel or powder and Enisyl-F® paste, 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.

What Can I Give My Cat for Feline Herpes?

Cats with respiratory issues cannot smell food and thus will not eat. Flushing their nose with saline drops and using Zesty Paws 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 have more questions on feline herpesvirus (feline viral rhinotracheitis), call our Pet Care Pros at 800.786.4751.

Written by: Donald Bramlage, DVM

Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, practiced veterinary medicine for 30+ years and is known for his work in managing parvovirus. He received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Kansas State University in 1985. He served as Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services from 2011 until his retirement in 2019.

If you need help, call us at 800.786.4751.