Herpesvirus is the causative agent of infectious rhinotracheitis in cats. It is very common and occurs especially in cats living in large groups. Herpesvirus is one of the germs that cause the syndrome of viral-bacterial inflammation of the upper respiratory tract and conjunctiva, which is commonly known as cat’s cold. What is this virus, how does it spread and how to prevent infection? What symptoms does it cause and how to treat cats attacked by it?
Feline herpesvirus – characteristics and routes of infection
Cats and other felines are attacked by feline herpesvirus type 1 (FHV-1). It has double-stranded DNA and a lipid-glycoprotein shell. Although it can survive for some time in the external environment at low temperatures, it can survive at temperatures above 15 degrees Celsius°C dies within 24 hours. It is sensitive to UV rays and commonly used disinfectants, which means that it quickly ceases to be contagious outside the cat’s body. For this reason, the main source of herpesvirus infections are cats during active infection, including those that are asymptomatic. The most common infections occur in cats living in groups, because the greatest risk comes from direct contact, such as eating from shared bowls or licking each other. That is why this virus is the biggest problem in homeless cat centers, shelters, and sometimes also in cattery farms.
Herpesvirus in cats – symptoms
Herpesvirus infection in cats causes symptoms in the nasal mucosa and conjunctiva. Initially, there is weakness, sneezing, serous (clear and watery) discharge from the nose and eyes, conjunctival swelling and loss of appetite. The virus is most dangerous for kittens up to 3 months of age and older animals with reduced immunity, as well as cats that are carriers of the FIV and FeLV viruses. Bacterial superinfections are very common in them. The discharge then changes from serous to purulent, causing breathing difficulties, salivation and dehydration. Subsequently, corneal ulceration and even perforation may occur, adhesions may form and permanent vision damage may occur. In some situations, the eye becomes so severely damaged that removal is the only option. Other serious complications that may even lead to the death of the animal include bronchitis and pneumonia. Adult cats with good immunity most often experience herpesvirus infection mildly and it passes on its own within 10-14 days from the appearance of the first symptoms.
Herpesvirus in cats – treatment
Treatment of herpesvirus infection without bacterial complications is based on symptomatic treatment. Currently not available no drugs intended for cats that would have a direct killing effect against the herpesvirus. The veterinarian decides to introduce a specific treatment regimen based on a clinical examination. Proper hydration and nutrition, as well as hygiene of the cat’s eyes and nose, are very important. The emerging secretions should be cleaned regularly, and in case of refusal to take water and food, water and feed, e.g. with a syringe. It is worth ensuring proper air humidification in the house and providing the sick animal with warmth, silence and peace. It is recommended to use preparations that support immunity containing L-lysine and beta-glucan. In any case of deterioration of health, you should report your observations to a veterinarian. If necessary, he may introduce drip irrigation, general and local antibiotic therapy (e.g. eye drops), anti-inflammatory and mucolytic drugs to help remove residual secretions. The exact treatment regimen depends on the specific case and the course of the disease.
A diet that strongly supports a cat’s body is the BARF diet. You will learn more about her from the article “BARF diet for dogs and cats – what do you need to know about it?”.
Can a cat get sick again after being sick?
Cats that have undergone herpesvirus infection in most cases become asymptomatic carriers of the virus. It camouflages in the trigeminal ganglia and can be activated again when the cat’s immunity weakens. This may happen in situations such as: severe stress (e.g. departure of caregivers, change of residence or arrival of a new household member), the need for long-term use of steroid drugs (in the case of certain diseases) or the appearance of a systemic disease that weakens the body. Relapses of herpesvirus disease occur quite often in cats infected with the FIV virus responsible for feline immunodeficiency and FeLV causing feline leukemia.
Prevention of herpesvirus infections in cats
How to limit the spread of herpesvirus? The most important methods are maintaining special hygiene and avoiding crowding in groups of cats (especially in animal shelters and cattery), isolating sick animals, as well as kittens that have not completed the basic vaccination cycle. It is very important to use preventive vaccinations, which should be performed on as many individuals as possible. Although vaccination does not provide 100% protection against the disease, it definitely reduces the occurrence of severe symptoms of the disease. It is also important to minimize the occurrence of stressful situations that may lead to weakened immunity and virus reactivation.
Be sure to read the article “10 symptoms of disease in cats”.