When you think of herpes, you probably think of the virus that infects humans and causes cold sores. But there's another herpes virus to consider when you're a cat owner: the feline herpes virus. This virus causes respiratory illness in many cats, and it's important that you know the basics.
What is feline herpes virus and what symptoms does it cause?
The feline herpes virus causes respiratory symptoms in cats. These may include congestion, drooling, nasal discharge, and sneezing attacks. Some cats also experience redness and inflammation of the eyes, lethargy, and a fever when infected with the virus. These symptoms don't always show up as soon as a cat has been infected. Sometimes, the virus can stay dormant in your cat's cells for years, only causing symptoms once your cat's immune system is weakened for some reason.
Is there a cure for feline herpes?
There is no cure for feline herpes. Once your cat is infected, he or she will carry the virus for life. When your cat develops symptoms, he or she is suffering what's called an "outbreak." Your vet can recommend an antiviral medication to nip the outbreak in the bud and alleviate symptoms, but your cat may suffer from additional outbreaks at any time in the future.
How do cats catch feline herpes?
Herpes is spread from cat to cat through nasal discharge, saliva, and tears. Cats can catch the virus by sharing a litter box with an infected cat, using an infected cat's food or water bowl, or engaging in mutual grooming with an infected cat. The virus is very contagious, so when an infected and non-infected cat are housed together, it is highly likely that the healthy cat will become infected.
How can you protect your cat from feline herpes?
If your cat lives alone indoors and you don't plan on exposing him or her to any other cats, there's little to no risk of that cat contracting feline herpes virus. However, if there's a chance your cat will go outside, visit a kennel, or be introduced to other cats you bring home, you'll want to have him vaccinated against feline herpes virus at a veterinary hospital. As vaccines are not 100% effective, you'll still want to keep your cat away from any other cats that appear ill, and avoid using any food bowls or water dishes that have been used by other cats until you have an opportunity to wash them with bleach water to kill any viral particles that may be present.