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Feline Herpes Overview
Herpesviridae is the name given to a fairly large family of viruses. Some of these cause diseases in humans (such as shingles and chickenpox). Other members of the same viral family cause different kinds of diseases in animals. So, of these, what does the feline version of Herpes do?
In cats, the most common medical condition caused by a Herpes virus is a respiratory disease. Other viruses and bacteria can also bring about the feline respiratory disease complex with similar symptoms. However, when Feline Herpes virus Type 1 (FHV-1) is identified as the cause, your vet will be more specific and call this Rhinotracheitis.
Feline Herpes – Is your cat at risk?
Whether specifically Herpes Induced Rhinotracheitis, or caused by another virus or bacteria, the Feline Respiratory Disease complex is extremely infectious. It can move from one cat to another by direct contact or by contact with discharge from the eyes, nose, and mouth.
Contaminated food dishes, litter boxes, or even on the owner’s hands, are all possible sources of infection. Sneezing and coughing, shooting tiny droplets in the air a few feet away, are also extremely infectious. Catteries, rescue shelters, and multi-cat households are therefore particularly susceptible to an outbreak of respiratory disease complex among non-vaccinated cats.
This disease can be very dangerous to young kittens, with high death rates. With adult cats, the main risk lies with loss of appetite occurring as the cat’s nasal passages get obstructed and the cat can’t smell her food.
Feline respiratory disease complex, whether induced by a member of the Herpes virus family or through another agent, is not infectious to humans.
Symptoms of Feline Herpes
Feline respiratory disease complex symptoms are similar, regardless of which virus is the cause of the infection. Severity changes from cat to cat, and often changes along the course of sickness. Some cats go through an acute stage before the disease turns into a chronic condition.
Early symptoms usually include bouts of sneezing, eye infection (conjunctivitis), and watery discharge from the nose and eyes. Later on, the cat may develop a fever, along with apathy and loss of appetite. This is often followed by a more severe and purulent discharge from the eyes and nose. When herpes virus-induced Rhinotracheitis is the cause, the cat usually develops a more severe eye infection, sometimes complicated by corneal ulcerations. A spastic cough will also be added to the mix.
Once the acute phase runs its course, cats remain carriers of the herpes virus for the rest of their lives. The infection may be reactivated when the carrier cat goes through periods of stress later on in life, inducing a mild upper respiratory infection.
Treatment of Feline Herpes
Supportive care is the key to treating this disease. The sick cat needs to be isolated and provided with rest and humidification. A cold steam vaporizer can help humidify the room and ease breathing. The sick cat needs to be constantly monitored for signs of dehydration, and fluids should be supplemented according to your vet’s recommendations.
Your cat may need to be encouraged to eat, by feeding special foods suggested as suitable by your veterinarian. If your cat still refuses to eat, loses weight, and becomes dehydrated, seek immediate veterinarian help. In some cases, your vet may suggest antibiotics to fight off secondary bacterial infections.
Some cat owners choose to supplement their cat’s diet with the amino acid l-lysine to prevent and treat herpes outbreaks. Recent studies showed that there is no real benefit in doing so but many of our members supplement their herpes kitties’ diets with l-lysine on a regular basis.
Prevention of Feline Herpes
The best way to deal with this infection is prevention by routinely vaccinating all cats. Special care should be given to breeding cats in catteries, and some vets suggest vaccinating queens before mating and before birth, to minimize the risk to newborn kittens.
A routine vaccination schedule should then be followed with all kittens and cats.
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