Did you know that cats get a form of herpes too? Don’t worry, you can’t catch it from your pet but other cats can! It’s often passed from an infected mom-cat to her kittens and can result in really bad conjunctivitis (eye infections) and URI (upper respiratory infection) symptoms. Once infected there is no cure but there are ways to manage and greatly reduce the symptoms and frequency of outbreaks. Since it seems to correlate with a weakened immune system, strengthening that and keeping your cat stress-free seems to be key in reducing flair-ups.
Herpes is a virus so antibiotics are not effective in fighting it directly although they may be recommended for secondary bacterial infections but there is a vaccine to protect against it. It is included in the FVRCP vaccines that all cats need to stay healthy. The R stands for rhinotracheitis and is caused by the feline herpesvirus type-1. FYI the C is for calicivirus and P is for panleukopenia (feline distemper.)
My 15-year-old cat, Pashmina, was born with herpes and we’ve been able to control it quite well with just 1 ml. of Lysine daily. Lysine is an amino acid that boosts the immune system and it comes as a flavored gel readily available in most pet stores. Keeping a cat stress free means keeping the cat otherwise healthy – providing good quality food, plenty of fresh water and a fear-free environment. Cats with herpes, and any other contagious condition, should live strictly indoors. If managed well, these cats can even live with non-herpes cats without worry. We have four cats and only Pashmina is herpes positive (that we know of), so don’t necessarily shy away from adopting a kitten that had a rough beginning – they need a stable home all the more!
Recently we noted that Pashmina was drinking a LOT of water and knowing that is a symptom of several diseases that can afflict senior cats (diabetes, hyperthyroid, and liver or kidney disfunction, to name a few) we took her in to the vet for a geriatric work-up. The blood panel showed that her liver values were out of whack. The issue for Pashmina is that part of the treatment is cortisone and that lowers the immune system. Sure enough, after a couple weeks on the medication her herpes flared up and she developed a severe URI. She became so congested that she lost her appetite completely (cats need to be able to smell food in order to eat) and was open mouth breathing. Poor dear! In trying to help one issue we created another! So obviously she had to stop the prednisolone and start a decongestant. After several days of syringe feeding her and hot compresses to clear her nasal passages her congestion is clearing.
Having a sick cat is a balancing act – sometimes the treatments backfire and can make things worse. Having a sick cat is never fun, but we are lucky that Pashmina is super easy to give medications to. She never fights it or even protests. In the meantime, we’re doing our best to keep poor Pashmina as comfortable as possible and making sure she eats enough to not lose more weight. We’re waiting for the holidays to be over to have another conversation with our veterinarian about other options for treating her liver ailment. I’ll definitely share what I learn and keep you posted!
Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at email@example.com.