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Feline Herpes Virus (FHV)

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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sultry Cat

"All God's creatures have their own ..."

“I suspect that your cat has contracted Feline Herpes Virus.”

This is not an easy discussion for either the vet or the owner of the cat.  However, all giggling aside, this virus is very common to cats. Let me get a few facts squared away upfront:

  1. It cannot be transmitted to humans.
  2. It is not an STD for cats.
  3. Did I mention that it cannot be transmitted to humans? We have our own Herpes Virus and as my favorite Virology teacher explained, ‘All God’s creatures have their own Herpes Virus.’

Most every cat has been exposed to it, but only a few will develop an illness from it.

This virus is everywhere.   It can be spread from cat to cat.  The most common form of this virus manifests as a cold.  Cats, usually young kittens, will develop an upper respiratory infection.  They will sneeze.  They will have runny eyes.  They will look pathetic.   An owner routinely brings the kitten into the vet because they have just gotten the kitten and now it’s sick.  Vets realize that as a virus, there is not much that we can do except help the pet while the virus runs its course.  The typical length of clinical signs (how long the kitten is sick) is 10 - 14 days.  The only time medications are used is if a kitten is open-mouth breathing, its mucus is colored or there is a scratch on its eyes.
FHV is very similar to another common kitten virus called Calicivirus.  Both viruses cause upper respiratory infections (sneezing, runny eyes, drooling, trouble breathing, etc.).   However, we tend to consider FHV more when the eyes/nose are involved as opposed to Calicivirus, when the nose/mouth (with ulcers) are involved.   Both viruses can be confirmed by running a test on a swab from the inside of the eye (conjunctival scrape).
In rare instances, a strain of FHV is considered the likely cause in Fading-Kitten Syndrome. This is when normal, healthy kittens rapidly decompensate and die shortly after birth.

Kittens and Cats exposed to FHV can have one of three outcomes.

  1. They can get rid of the disease without ever showing clinical signs.
  2. They can get a mild case with just a little sneezing, then never get it again.
  3. They can get the fulminant disease and will have outbreaks throughout their lives at times of stress.

Like other Herpes Viruses, FHV can live in the nerves of a cat and come out (causing illness) at times of stress.   For some owners, listening to the fact that they must keep their cats stress free can be a challenge.   From a cat’s standpoint, stresses can include new pets in the home, owners' vacation, loss of a housemate, relocating to a new home, construction in the home, rearranging furniture — even just looking at the cat.
Vaccinationwith the FVRCP can help to prevent the disease.  However, therapy after exposure is focused on preventing future outbreaks.   Cats cannot tolerate the antiviral drugs that people take for the human Herpes virus.  Instead, cats can be giving L-Lysine, an amino acid (or building block of protein,) which theoretically prevents Herpes from reproducing.   If the cats have ocular ulcers or Keratitis, then topical antiviral eye drops, like Cidofovir or Idoxuridine can be applied.   Recently, there has been success in treating these cats with Famciclovir orally, to reduce the duration of outbreaks.
Finally, have I mentioned that humans can’t get Herpes from their cats?   So there is no reason to be embarrassed if your vet tells you that your cat has Herpes!

Kathy Rose, DVM 2/29/2012 12:15:00 PM

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