Nearly every cat is exposed to the herpes virus as a kitten. Because of this, most cats carry the herpes virus. In the majority of cats, an infection or flareup of herpes virus results in nothing more than coldlike symptoms, though it can cause serious illness in some instances.
Sneezing, runny eyes and nose, and just a general blah feeling are the symptoms the vast majority of cats experience when they are sick with herpes virus. It's similar to how we feel when we have a cold or a minor case of the flu. There are three different viruses that are called herpes virus. They are feline viral rhinopneumonitis, rhinotracheitis virus and feline herpesvirus Type 1.
There is no single test your veterinarian can do to determine if your cat has herpes virus. The diagnosis is based on your cat's medical history, symptoms and possibly some laboratory tests. Aside from prescription eye ointments and antibiotics, which will prevent or treat any secondary infections, the most important part of treating a cat with a herpes virus flareup is nursing care. You should gently wipe discharge from his eyes and nose several times a day with a damp, warm cloth. Monitor how much your cat is eating and provide special treats, such as warmed chicken broth or special canned foods. Many cats will not eat when their noses are stuffy so you'll have to provide something enticing to encourage his appetite.
There are few precautions you can take for other cats in your nest. All of the cats in the home should be up-to-date on the FVRCP vaccination, which protects cats against herpes virus. It's most likely that your other cats have been exposed to the virus, so it's unlikely the cat that is sick is going to cause them to have a flareup. By the time you know the sick kitty is ill, it's also likely he's already exposed the other cats to the virus. Sharing bowls and litter boxes spreads the virus. It's not necessarily a bad idea to isolate the sick cat if for no other reason than to give him a safe, quiet place to rest and recover. However, if your cats are particularly close and being separated causes them stress, you may do more harm than good by isolating the sick kitty. Stressed cats are more likely to have flareups of herpes virus.
Your healthy adult cat is likely to experience nothing worse than a "bad cold" when the herpes virus flares up. However, the virus can be life-threatening for young kittens, elderly cats and cats with weak immune systems. If not treated, discharge can seal the eyes shut in cats who are severely ill and sometimes causes eyes to rupture. Another risk is the virus causing the cat to stop eating altogether. In these instances, you'll usually have to hospitalize your cat. Fluids and nutrition are given through an IV.
Bethney Foster is social justice coordinator for Mercy Junction ministry, where she edits the monthly publication "Holy Heretic." She is also an adoption coordinator with a pet rescue agency. Foster spent nearly two decades as a newspaper reporter/editor. She graduated from Campbellsville University, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in English, journalism and political science.