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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Herpes in cats...

is not a sexually transmitted disease. In cats (even wild cats), feline herpesvirus type 1 is one causative agent of feline upper respiratory infection complex. It causes rhinotracheitis (infection/inflammation in the nasal cavities and upper airway). The virus can also infect various structures of the eye, in some cases causing severe and debilitating disease. It can also cause severe skin lesions and complicate pregnancy by affecting the reproductive tract. It is assumed that the prevalence of the virus in the feline population is quite high, but not all cats have the virus. Many are asymptomatic carriers, showing no signs of respiratory or ocular problems. Feline herpesvirus infection is highly contagious, making individuals in catteries, kennels, pet shops, and other high cat-concentrated areas, highly susceptible to the virus. Kittens and unvaccinated cats are highly susceptible to acquiring clinical symptoms, sometimes severe. I personally had one feline patient under my care die of a severe upper respiratory infection, presumably from herpes, but this was not confirmed with testing.
Veterinarians often see cats for sneezing, many having just been acquired from a shelter or store. Most, if not nearly all, of these cats have herpes. Other viruses and various bacteria also cause upper respiratory infections in cats. Antibiotics are not indicated in most cases, despite their use. Secondary bacterial infections can accompany a viral infection, often manifested by a purulent (presence of pus) nasal and/or ocular discharge. These should be treated with antibiotics. L-lysine, an amino acid, has been advocated for the treatment of herpesvirus in cats. Humans with cold sores often take L-lysine, which decreases the severity and duration of the cold sore. In cats with herpes, this may also hold true, though some researchers are questioning its use. More recently, topical (for eyes) and oral anti-viral agents are being advocated to treat herpesvirus in cats. Remember, in humans and cats, the herpesvirus sits latent in specific parts of the nerves, "coming out" and causing symptoms during times of stress, immunosuppression, when on steroids, etc. Like with shingles, cats with clinical signs of herpes often benefit enormously from anti-viral agents such as famciclovir or ganciclovir. Testing is often unnecessary, however I have recently been running more and more feline upper respiratory panels in cats, which I personally have found helps me treat these cats more specifically, as well as more effectively.

I don't think this photo was photoshopped (photo from