Nasty as it sounds, feline herpes is quite common in cats because it's so easily spread. If Missy's like most cats, she's probably been exposed to the virus. Don't despair -- odds are she'll lead a normal, happy life, but you'll need to exercise caution to prevent its spread.
Feline Herpes Virus
If your vet has told you Missy has feline herpes, she has an infectious disease caused by feline herpesvirus type-1. Its technical name is Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (FVR) and it's unique to domestic and wild cats. It's a major cause of upper respiratory disease in cats and the most common cause of conjunctivitis. Kittens are frequently exposed to FVR and usually become resistant to it or become protected against it through routine vaccinations.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
If Missy's acting like she has a cold, FVR could be at the root of the problem. Symptoms of feline herpes include congestion, sneezing, discharge from the eyes and nose, decreased appetite, lethargy, squinting and fever. Her eyes may get lesions or ulcers and become inflamed. Because other viruses can cause upper respiratory infections in cats, diagnosing FVR is usually based on Missy's medical history and symptoms. Sometimes the vet will collect samples from the cat's cells or discharges to test for confirmation of the virus.
Spreading the Virus
Cats can become infected with FVR through direct contact with the virus. If Missy shares a litter box or food and water dishes with an infected housemate, she's at risk to contract the virus. If they play together or groom each other, she's also vulnerable. If her mother carried the virus while Missy was in her womb, chances are Missy inherited it. While humans cannot catch the virus from cats, we can help promote its spread. VCA Hospital notes that inanimate objects contaminated with the shed virus particles can promote the spread of FVR. That means if you've pet or held Missy and not washed up properly, you could unknowingly spread the virus to her housemate, even if you've taken care to separate them. Bedding, cat trees and other common areas -- such as the favorite chair -- can also hold the virus. Fortunately the time available for infection is short, usually at most a few hours, because when the secretions containing the virus dries up, the danger of infection passes.
Because the virus itself can't be cured, the vet will treat any symptoms Missy displays. She may receive antibiotics or other medicine to help ease her symptoms. If she's developed conjunctivitis, she'll probably appreciate eye drops or creams to help with any eye irritations. Some cats become quite congested if the virus causes an upper respiratory infection. If that's the case with Missy, you can try using a humidifier to help relieve congestion and a tasty canned food to encourage her to eat.
Preventing the Spread of FVR
The best way to prevent the spread of the virus is to ensure that Missy and all her housemates are vaccinated against the virus. Current vaccinations help minimize the spread and risk of FVR. Any cat that's been infected with the virus will become a carrier, with the virus staying inactive in her body. Stress will cause a dormant virus to become reactivated, allowing the cat to spread the virus. If Missy is a carrier and has been sick or stressed, you'll want to keep her isolated from her housemates to minimize the risk of spreading it to her friends. You should also make sure you thoroughly wash your hands and change your clothes after you spend time with her to make sure you don't carry it to Missy's buddies.
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