Even if a cat has recovered from the wild feline herpesvirus, herpes is forever. Queens that are carriers of herpes will have recurrent flare-ups of both respiratory and reproductive issues. Once a cat gets herpes it remains in the nerves and is always carried by the cat.
Is Feline Herpesvirus Contagious to Other Cats
The biggest issue in catteries is when new breeding genetics that are carriers introduce the wild feline herpesvirus to our unvaccinated and unprotected cats. Feline herpesvirus is contagious to other cats. If the herd immunity is low and herpes is introduced into the cattery with a carrier male or queen, wild herpes virus is then established in your adults and goes through the cattery. At that point, we have to manage herpes in cats back out of our genetically superior queens.
Feline Herpesvirus During Pregnancy
Feline herpesvirus, also known as Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, will resurface when the cat is stressed since stress causes a lower immune fight. Giving birth is a major stress to mom, that’s why herpes can and does complicate late pregnancy.
When feline herpes is active, a queen will either abort late term, give birth to abnormal or sick kittens, or pass rhinotracheitis to her kittens after birth, causing a lifelong issue. In late gestation, queens can and do abort with herpes. Kittens born to a mom with herpes are born early or sick. The secret is managing carrier moms so she does not expose her kittens to wild herpes flare-ups.
Can a Pregnant Cat Have L-lysine?
Rescues that specialize in pregnant cats will assume queens are herpes positive and manage pregnant queens through pregnancy and nursing. Use L-lysine during the pregnancy to get kittens on the ground and raised healthy. L-lysine helps keep the virus in check, maintains a safe pregnancy and prevents the kitten from being exposed to the virus until herpes immunity from vaccination is established.
Pregnant Cat With Feline Herpesvirus
If you have a pregnant queen who is a carrier, follow these steps to manage herpesvirus out of your cattery:
- Get mom’s immunity up through vaccination. Building colostrum immunity helps keep her kittens healthy to weaning. Vaccine immunity also keeps the virus in check and helps keep it in remission.
- Put mom on L-lysine throughout her pregnancy. L-lysine helps keep herpes in check, even though it hasn’t been removed from the cat.
- At four weeks of age, put the kittens on L-lysine until the kittens’ vaccine immunity is up.
- Once the kitten is vaccinated for herpes effectively and is not a carrier, we replace the herpes carrier queen with her daughter, who is not a carrier, and retire the mom. Replacing with herpes-free daughters maintains our genetic line while establishing herpes-free queens.
Herpes-free, immune queens will not need L-lysine to carry kittens to term. This method has been effective and stops the cycle of treating most kittens for viral respiratory issues.
Keeping breeding cats’ vaccine immunity up, being careful in selecting new cats to bring in, and quarantining new genetics until we can vaccinate and evaluate them all is part of our biosecurity plan. Our long term plan should be, if we don’t bring it in, we don’t have to get it back out! If you have a pregnant cat with feline herpesvirus or other cat health questions, call us at 800.786.4751.
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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.