By Betsey Cichoracki
Herpes. Ever since high school health class that word has prompted “ewws” and “gross!” in the minds of many. So when our vet informed me that our cat Coal has herpes, I thought “ewww” before even learning what feline herpes really is. Turns out a herpes virus means many things among many species.
Feline herpes or feline rhinotracheitis virus (FHV-1) is a respiratory illness that affects domestic and wild cats worldwide. Not unlike a feline upper respiratory infection, symptoms include sneezing, nasal discharge, inflammation of the nose, and inflammation of the eyelid membrane. In Coal, it looked liked he had a bad cold. He would sneeze, have watery eyes, and the biggest green “boogers” (eww!) would come oozing from his nose. At first, we were quite concerned and made many trips to the vet’s office. We tried antibiotics, vitamins, aroma-therapy (stress is an inducer), eye drops, and all have helped manage the symptoms but in the end, like all viruses it has to run its course. And in some cases it can be recurring.
We’ve determined that our guy is a chronic carrier of FHV-1 and he has flare-ups from time to time. Because he is a chronic carrier, he gets a daily dose of L-lysine, which is a nutritional supplement that’s available in a variety of forms. The supplement supports his immune system and reduces stress to keep the flare-ups minimal. This is a common and effective treatment as suggested by veterinarians and the cats seem to like it too. Coal thinks it’s a treat and licks it off his food without hesitation.
Unfortunately the virus is contagious to other felines but NOT humans and vice versa-humans with a type of herpes can not transmit to a cat. However, we do worry about bringing a second cat into our home – unless it already has the FHV-1 virus. Coal can be in the same room as other cats as long as he doesn’t have an active herpes flareup. The virus can be shed through the discharge from an infected cat’s eyes, nose, and mouth. The most common mode of transmission appears to be contact with contaminated objects that an infected cat has touched or sneezed on including cages, food and water bowls, litter trays, pet owner’s clothing, and the pet
owner’s hands. But the most important thing to note is that it is not life-threatening if treated properly and he behaves just like any other cat…. unpredictable at all times!
So if you see a cat / kitten up for adoption that potentially has FHV-1, I hope it doesn’t discourage you from giving them a fur-ever home. We wouldn’t trade Coal for the world-boogers and all!