Chronic Herpes Virus in Cats

Most cats encounter herpesvirus at some point during their lives.
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The feline herpesvirus (FHV) is responsible for nasty respiratory infections in cats, and the disease can become chronic just like its human-specific counterpart. You aren't at any risk of contracting the disease from your cat. Human and feline herpes can't spread to other species.


Feline herpes is a highly contagious virus that spreads through large feline populations quickly. Cats from animal shelters and feral cat colonies often suffer from outbreaks of the disease. The virus doesn't live long outside of a host, but it can spread when an infected cat sneezes or if your cat cleans his face. Isolate your kitty from your other cats if he shows any signs of FHV until you can take him to the vet. Wash your hands and change clothes before interacting with other cats to avoid spreading the virus.

Immediate Symptoms

Leaky eyes, runny nose, sneezing and coughing all point to an upper respiratory infection (URI). Lots of different pathogens can cause a URI, but feline herpes is responsible for a large percentage of cases, according to ASPCA Professional. If your cat does have a URI, expect him to avoid moving and eating until he's feeling better. Offer him wet food to encourage him to eat every day. Difficulty breathing, conjunctivitis and nasal blockage usually continues for a week or two before subsiding.

Latent Effects

Most cats infected with FHV become carriers or chronic victims of the virus. The acute respiratory distress that accompanied your cat's initial infection probably won't happens again. However, conjunctivitis or other symptoms of the virus may emerge intermittently through the rest of his life, particularly when he is stressed by changes in his environment, according to NC State University College of Veterinary Medicine. Just because your cat doesn't show symptoms doesn't mean he isn't contagious. Some cats actively shed the virus even though they have no symptoms.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your vet will swab the inside of your cat's mouth and send it in for laboratory tests to confirm the presence of the herpesvirus, according to The Winn Feline Foundation. Unfortunately, viral medications aren't very effective against it, so there's not much you can do to alleviate your pet's suffering. Medicated eye drops help clear up conjunctivitis and your vet can prescribe antibiotics to prevent bacteria from taking advantage of your kitty's taxed immune system. Appetite-enhancing medication and fluid therapy are necessary to help cats who completely refuse food and water.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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