Feline herpes virus is a species-specific, non-zoonotic virus that is commonly diagnosed in cats. Although not transmissible to humans, this virus is highly contagious to other cats. It is said that the majority of cats have been exposed to feline herpes virus, but not all will show symptoms. Often, symptoms occur more frequently in purebred (Persian, Himalayan, Siamese, etc.) and rescued cats (farm, stray, humane society, etc.), due to weaker immune systems and stressful situations. Similar to the way the human body reacts to viruses, stress is one of the biggest causes of a flare-up.
Your veterinarian may diagnose your cat based on symptoms alone, or may suggest having a test performed by an outside laboratory. Testing is not commonly done, due to cost and the possibility of false negatives. Your veterinarian will also decide if your cat’s symptoms are truly due to the herpes virus and not another underlying cause, such as bacteria.
Symptoms that are commonly seen may include upper respiratory problems (coughing, sneezing), tearing and/or squinting eyes, conjunctivitis (an inflammation or redness of the lining of the white part of the eye and the underside of the eyelid (conjunctiva), and sometimes corneal ulcers (an open sore on the cornea—the thin clear structure overlying the iris—which is the colored part of the eye). If these symptoms are left untreated, they can cause permanent effects.
Oral L-lysine, an amino acid nutraceutical that inhibits viral replication, is commonly prescribed for patients with herpes. L-lysine may be recommended for short term or lifelong use. There are many forms available “over the counter,” as well as veterinary-specific forms. The veterinary-specific forms may include tablets, powder, and paste, which are much more palatable and readily accepted by cats. Also, depending on the severity of the symptoms, your veterinarian may prescribe anti-viral medications and/or an appropriate antibiotic.
As mentioned earlier, one of the biggest causes of a flare-up is stress. Keeping a relatively stress-free home is ideal. A move, vacation, or even a growing family may be fun and exciting to us, but can be extremely stressful to your cat. Plan ahead and talk with your veterinarian before an upcoming, stress-inducing event to help your furry friend live a long, comfortable life.