Feline Herpes Virus/ Feline Rhinotracheitis

This article is designed to help you better understand your pet’s condition. This is not a substitute for a veterinary diagnosis; it intended for reference purposes and to supplement an existing diagnosis after a veterinary examination. If you have questions or concerns, please contact us at 740-432-5980. It is absolutely vital to have a veterinary diagnosis prior to following any of the instructions provided here.

Feline Rhinotracheitis aka Feline Herpes Virus is caused by Feline Herpesvirus Type I or FHV-I. This is the most common cause of upper respiratory disease in cats. A vaccination for this highly contagious disease is available and is included in the RCCP Combo Vaccine that we recommend every cat receive annually regardless if they are indoor or outdoor pets.


This disease is characterized by a variety of upper respiratory symptoms including but not limited to: sneezing, congestion, and nasal or ocular (eye) discharge, corneal ulcers, conjunctivitis, appetite loss, depression/lethargy, ulcers in mouth (especially on the tongue), fever, and even pneumonia.


The onset of the disease is typically from being housed in shelters or multi-cat households with high stress levels. The disease is easily spread without even having direct contact with the infected cat. The disease can be spread via fomites (inanimate objects) so contaminated litter pans for food/water dishes are common catalysts for the disease. It is also possible for a person to touch an infected cat and spread the virus to other cats. This is why you should not go through shelters and pet stores and touch each cat through the bars, disease is easily spread this way. If cats are displaying symptoms then they are actively shedding the virus; however there are also asymptomatic carriers that spread the virus without ever showing symptoms.

Long Term Outlook

The first outbreak is typically the most severe, after-which an otherwise healthy cats immune system should keep the disease under control. However once this disease is contracted the cat will have this virus for the rest of his or her life. There is no cure for a virus of any kind and herpes will remain in the cat’s body for a lifetime. Flareups will usually occur following a stressful event of any kind, even something very minor. If you suffer from cold sores or fever blisters then you may already understand this concept, as this condition in humans is the result of Herpes Labialis/Herpes Simplex Virus and sores are often influenced by even the slightest stress. Another similarity is that even though the sores may go away the virus stays in the human body for life and you will probably have a flare up again later. “Later” may be weeks, months, or even years. The same concept holds true for the cat. Although these viral strains are completely separate from one another, they are very similar in these respects.

Treatment  Because there is no cure for herpes, treatment is done on a purely symptomatic and supportive basis. Severe upper respiratory infections can seriously inhibit the cat’s ability to smell. Without a sense of smell, the cat will loose its appetite. In addition to this, ulcerations in the mouth caused by herpes can make eating extremely painful. A cat’s condition may rapidly deteriorate due to dehydration and malnutrition if this is the case. Fluid therapy may be needed during extreme flare-ups such as this. For minor flare-ups, a typical treatment would entail keeping the eyes and nose clear of discharge using a warm damp cloth, and antibiotic therapy to treat/prevent any secondary infections while the immune system is being suppressed by the virus, and careful monitoring of food and water intake.

Our Treatment Goal

Our goal with herpes infected cats is to keep them comfortable and happy. Think of it as a human with severe allergies; that person will never get rid of their allergies but they can have perfectly happy healthy lives if they just take medication as needed. Although sometimes allergy medication does not relieve symptoms 100% it certainly helps make life much more comfortable and keeps symptoms manageable.


The best method is prevention. Vaccinate your pets. Do not expose them to other cats whenever possible. Provide them with an environment that is as stress free as you can manage.

Zoonotic Potential

This form of herpes is entirely species specific. You absolutely cannot contract this disease from your cat. There are many different strains of herpes that impact many different species in many different ways. You cannot give any strain of herpes to your cat and your cat cannot give any strain of herpes to you. This is a large amount of information to absorb and we understand that. This is why we have handouts for you because presenting all this too you verbally may prove overwhelming. If you have concerns or questions beyond what is described here please never hesitate to ask. We are here to help you give your pet the happiest healthiest life possible.

Guernsey Veterinary Clinic, Cassie Gombeda RVT 740-432-5980

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