"I'd like to get another cat, but I don't think I can. My cat now just showed up at my doorstep a couple of years ago, and he was diagnosed with feline herpes. I wouldn't want him to pass that along to another cat."
This was the start of a conversation I overheard this week between an attentive cat owner and a humane society employee. Although feline herpes sounds like a terrible thing, it's actually very common and can be treated. I did a little more research on the virus to see how it affects most cats.
First, it's important to note that feline herpes is passed between cats easily, but it cannot affect any other kind of animal, including humans. Other mammals and birds, such as dogs, cows, chickens and humans, all have species-specific herpes viruses. Feline herpes is susceptible to almost all common household disinfectants and survives in the environment less than 24 hours.
As many as 80 to 90 percent of cats are estimated to have feline herpes-1, also called feline rhinotracheitis virus. For some unknown reason, it appears as symptoms in some cats, perhaps those with weakened immune systems. Often kittens are born with it, passed from their mothers. Latent carriers can give it to other cats without showing symptoms themselves.
When a cat does have feline herpes symptoms, they are usually similar to a respiratory infection. Runny nose and eyes, sneezing and coughing and constipation can all be signs of feline herpes. These symptoms might show up during times of stress, such as when a new pet is brought into the home, you go on vacation or you move to a new home.
Many other illnesses may show these same symptoms - for example, chlamydia is a bacteria that causes similar eye problems and can be treated with an antibiotic. Because of this, if your cat shows symptoms like those described, it's a good idea to see your veterinarian. Left untreated, eye problems may turn into conjuncivitis or corneal ulcers. For cats that have these kinds of serious symptoms, your vet may try various anti-viral medications.
Eye drops or ointment may help a cat suffering from ulcers or other eye-related problems.
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However, cats with mild outbreaks of herpes may get relief from herbs that strengthen the immune system and lysine, an amino acid that humans use to control their own outbreaks of herpes simplex, which causes cold sores. Lysine works by interfering with virus reproduction. You can purchase a bottle of lysine pills and grind them up in canned food or a little bit of tunafish.
To see the most benefit, lysine should be given for an extended time, such as a few weeks. Some owners may find that lysine should be given every day to keep problems at bay. You'll have to see what works for your cat. The recommended dosage varies from 250 to 500 mg each day.
If hiding lysine in the food is not an option, talk to your vet about a product called Enisyl-F. From the makers of hairball helper Laxatone, Enisyl-F is tubes of lysine paste that is easy to dose and not too expensive. Alternatively, you can check with a compounding pharmacy about making liquid lysine or flavored lysine that will appeal to cats (you may need a vet's prescription to get lysine compounded, even though it is available over the counter).
Other ways of keeping your cat's immune system functioning well and reducing stress are recommended. Some owners of cats with repeated herpes flare-ups use a product called Feliway. Feliway incorporates phermones from happy cats and is often used to help cats with inappropriate urination or excessive howling.
If you have a cat with herpes, the stress relief that Feliway provides can help with household changes or stressful times.
Other cats with herpes have seen a reduction in symptoms from echinacea, astragalus and other immune-boosting herbs. Look for an immune support product with these herbs and other vitamins just for cats, or be cautious about the dose given. Herbs can have reactions too, and some researchers don't believe they have much effect on immune function. I've personally had good results with them in pets, but you may have different results. Talk to your vet or seek out a naturopathic vet if you have questions about these products.
Because so many cats carry the herpes virus in some way, it's not necessary to quarantine a cat that is diagnosed with herpes. However, introducing a new cat to the household may stress your cat with herpes, so it's important to keep introductions as low-key as possible and use stress reduction techniques during the process.
For more information about feline herpes, see www.thensome.com/herpes.htm. Put together by a cat owner who dealt with frequent outbreaks of feline herpes in her pet, this site has information about the virus, problems that can occur and different remedies that have worked for some owners.