How to Treat Feline Herpes

Odds are your cat harbors the feline herpesvirus, even if she's perfectly healthy. While it's a common virus in cats, it can prove fatal in kittens. Treating feline herpesvirus consists primarily of attending to the symptoms, which include respiratory and eye issues. Take your cat to the vet at the first sign of any breathing difficulties or eye infection.

Kittens
Kittens are especially vulnerable to the feline herpesvirus.
credit: tchara/iStock/Getty Images

Feline Herpesvirus

Infected cats emit the virus in their bodily secretions, including saliva and mucus. Cats contract the virus from contact with these fluids, either directly from an infected cat or from contaminated objects, such as a food dish. Once infected, cats become symptomatic in less than a week, but can transmit the virus before symptoms become apparent. While the actual infection lasts up to three weeks, once symptoms subside the cat carries the inactive virus for the rest of his life. In times of stress, the infection might again become active.

Herpesvirus Symptoms

If your cat suffers from an upper respiratory infection, it's likely that the feline herpesvirus is behind it. Known as feline herpesviral rhinotracheitis, an affected cat exhibits fever, nasal discharge, sneezing, drooling, enlarged lymph nodes and an eye infection. Very sick cats might develop mouth sores or corneal inflammation. Newborn kittens -- whose eyes haven't even opened yet -- often suffer from herpesvirus conjunctivitis. These babies exhibit goopy, closed eyes.

Herpesvirus Respiratory Treatment

While antibiotics can't cure the virus, they can help treat any secondary bacterial infection. Your vet might prescribe antihistamines to clear your cat's nasal passages. She might recommend keeping your cat in a room with a humidifier or placing your cat in the bathroom when you and other family members shower, as the steam helps to relieve swollen nasal passages. Because your cat's sense of smell suffers with a congested nose, you might need to feed him smelly canned food, such as fish, to stimulate his appetite.

Eye Infection Treatment

Your veterinarian might prescribe topical antibiotics to prevent secondary bacterial infections. You must apply this medication into the eyes several times daily. If the eye is painful and inflamed, your vet also might prescribe topical anti-inflammatory medication. She might recommend giving your cat oral lysine, which helps battle the virus. In severe cases affecting the cornea, your vet might refer you to a veterinary ophthalmologist, who can debride the area. While most cats recover with treatment, it's possible that vision loss will occur.