Feline Herpes: Runny Eyes? Stuffy Nose?

Paikea was a stray kitten when she was taken in by Tanya Elder. The stray dog was between six and eight weeks old. Tanya reports that she has eyes that are always watering and that she occasionally sneezes and wheezes. In more recent times, Paikea’s nose has been clogged to the point where it has required a visit to the veterinarian as well as a treatment with Clavamox.

Paikea appears to be suffering from feline herpes 1, also known as “rhinotracheitis,” which is a virus that affects the upper respiratory tract. It is the most common cause of conjunctivitis, which is characterized by inflammation, discharge, and redness of the eyes. It’s possible that only one eye will be affected. Even though the majority of cats are infected with the herpes virus as kittens, the virus does not typically manifest itself until the immune system is challenged. It is possible for a kitten to contract the disease from its mother, from other cats in its environment, or from a live-virus vaccine.

After only a couple of days of being exposed to the virus, symptoms start to appear. Conjunctivitis is just one of the symptoms of feline herpes, which also causes fever, depression, loss of appetite, and a thick discharge of mucous from the nose. Mouth ulcers are more likely to occur in patients who have the calcium form of the disease. It is critical to begin treatment as soon as possible because pneumonia can develop and conjunctivitis can cause corneal ulcers. Considering that laboratory tests might not always capture everything, diagnosis is frequently done based on the patient’s symptoms.

“Laboratory methods used in the diagnosis of FHC-1 infection include serum antibody titers by serum neutralization or ELISA, virus isolation, immunofluorescent assay or PCR assay,” says Alexandra van der Woerdt, DVM, MS, DACVO, DECVO, of the Bobst Hospital, Animal Medical Center, in New York City. Dr. van der Woerdt holds a DVM, MS, DACVO, and DECVO degrees. She claims that isolating the virus is the most accurate method; however, handling the samples can be challenging, and the analysis takes more than a week to complete.

The feline herpes virus is distinct from a common upper respiratory infection in that cats infected with it are more likely to suffer from recurrent outbreaks of the disease.

Vaccination, while not the most effective method of preventing rhinotracheitis, may reduce the severity of the disease’s symptoms. Since live-virus FHV-1 vaccines have been linked to being the cause of upper respiratory outbreaks, it is recommended that an inactivated virus vaccine be used instead. In addition to vaccination, stress factors should be reduced as much as possible, and good housekeeping practices should be implemented. These practices include keeping sick cats and healthy cats apart, as well as keeping kittens of different ages in separate groups until they are between 12 and 16 weeks old.

“A ‘carrier’ cat is one that has been previously infected (and has gone through the active stage of the disease) and is now recovered,” Wilma Lagerwerf, RVT, RLAT writes for the Winn Feline Foundation. “A ‘carrier’ cat is one that has gone through the active stage of the disease.” Every cat that is a carrier is either active (having an active virus infection within their bodies) or latent (not actively infected) (the virus is present, but not active). It is possible for carrier cats that are currently in the active phase to become ill (although not always, and usually not to the same degree as the first time). Cats that are in the latent phase only have the virus on the inside of their bodies, but they don’t show any symptoms and don’t spread it to other cats or the environment.

An outbreak typically lasts for about two weeks, but it is essential to get treatment in order to avoid complications such as pneumonia or ocular damage. According to Christine Bellezza, DVM, consultant at the Cornell Feline Health Center, providing high-quality nursing care is essential. According to her, in the event of a secondary infection, broad-spectrum antibiotics as well as a topical antibiotic for the eyes may be required. Furthermore, in the event that ocular ulcers develop, a topical ocular antiviral medication may be required. She also notes that in addition to using nose drops, there are times when taking a shower in a steamed-up enclosure can be helpful. In more severe cases, it may be necessary to administer fluids intravenously or subcutaneously. In the event that the nose is stuffed up, Dr. Bellezza recommends feeding the kitty baby food or odoriferous foods to keep it eating.

Dr. Jean Hofve, a veterinarian in Colorado, suggests using a saline solution that you make at home to treat eye irritation. Saline solution should be prepared from scratch each time, consisting of a quarter of a teaspoon of table salt combined with one cup of water at room temperature. The solution should be dribbled into the cat’s eyes using a cotton ball.

One of the most straightforward treatments, according to Dr. Hofve, is to take l-lysine, which is a low-cost amino acid that can be purchased at health food stores. She recommends a dosage of 500 milligrams twice a day mixed into canned food for a period of five days (totaling 1,000 milligrams a day). After that, she recommends continuing treatment with a maintenance dose of 250 milligrams per day for an indefinite period of time.

That quantity of l-lysine was administered to Paikea by Tanya as part of the treatment. Tanya also uses . 25 milliliters of Vetri-Science DMV and a Nu-Cat vitamin, in addition to either Terramycin or triple antibiotic cream a couple of times per week.

The most important factors in preventing feline herpes are reducing the amount of stress that the cat is exposed to in its environment and keeping a healthy immune system through proper nutrition and supplementation.

Even though feline herpes is a troublesome disease, a treatment plan that is developed in collaboration with your veterinarian can prevent more serious complications and keep your cat’s symptoms under control.


• L-lysine is a supplement that can be purchased at health food stores.
• Nu-Cat and Vetri-Science DMV: www.onlynaturalpet.com and www.vetri-science.com
• Willard water can be purchased at http://www.dr-willardswater.com and Swanson Vitamins can be found at www.swansonvitamins.com.
• Helpful Hints for a Healthy Lifestyle: www.spiritessence.com
• BioSuperfood can be found online at www.biosuperfood.com.

For further information, please see:

• Yahoo Groups forum devoted to the discussion of feline herpes
• Feline Husbandry, by Niels C. Pedersen, published by Mosby in 1991; the book covers diseases and management in an environment with multiple cats.
• An article on feline upper respiratory viruses can be found at www.winnfelinehealth.org/health/rhinotracheitis.html on the website of the Winn Feline Foundation.

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