Feline herpes virus is a very common respiratory virus in cats. It is a contagious disease that is most common in kittens or young cats.  Up to 85 percent of kittens may be exposed to the virus at birth. Kittens that develop severe infections at birth can wind up with extensive scarring on the surface of the eye(s) resulting in cloudiness of the cornea and conformational eyelid abnormalities.

This virus typically causes signs similar to a “cold” such as sneezing, coughing and a discharge from the nose and / or eyes. Some cats will also develop corneal ulcers and conjunctivitis - these affected cats usually do have a discharge from the eye(s) and may be squinty and hold their eye(s) closed.  Once it runs its course, the virus can go into “remission” in some animals.  Up to 45 percent of cats may experience relapses of the signs of disease later in life.  The relapses are often brought on by stress (new baby or pets introduced into the family, moving to a new home, boarding, etc.) 

Although the virus is highly contagious to other cats it is NOT contagious to people.  Cats can pass the virus to other cats through sneezing and coughing or sharing food and water bowls.

Conjunctivitis is usually treated symptomatically with topical antibiotics to prevent a secondary bacterial infection.  Antiviral medications including drops, ointments or oral medications (or a combination of all) may be recommended in some cases - especially when corneal ulcers are present. L-Lysine has also been recommended as an intervention in the management of affected cats, however scientific evidence regarding its efficacy is lacking.

The clinical course is variable, but problems may persist for 2 to 8 weeks - and in some cases, longer.  Surgery is sometimes recommended if the corneal ulcers are severe and threaten the integrity of the eye.  Eliminating stress factors from the environment may help in reducing the potential for recurrence.