What is feline herpes?

Herpes in cats is fairly common - estimates range from 40% to 70% having the feline herpes virus. It is a chronic infection that generally lasts for life. It is diagnosed through a test called PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) which is basically a test on the DNA to determine whether the virus is there or not. Most cats who have it do not suffer any ill effects from it - they are latent carriers, and it just stays there quietly in the cat for the rest of its life like chicken pox does in people who've had it.

   

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However, there are two basic potential problems that feline herpes can cause cat owners. First, in kittens it is usually more dangerous. Kittens usually seem like they're sick in general when they have herpes, with symptoms such as sneezing, discharge from the eyes and nose (see cat discharge) and lethargy. They usually get better within a few weeks. In adults, it more often manifests itself as a recurring feline conjunctivitis. This is a specific kind of eye infection of the conjunctiva, a membrane of the cat's eye. If this starts happening to your cat, you will be able to get rid of it but it is likely to come back again in the future. Adult cats can also show the same symptoms as kittens, but generally it is not as severe. Feline herpes is also the cause of some upper respiratory infections in adult cats.

How is it spread?

Unlike with people, the herpes virus in cats is not an STD. It can be transmitted through the air via sneezing or through any kind of close contact with another cat.

Is there a treatment?

There are some antiviral drugs you can give a cat when it is experiencing a flare-up, but you cannot completely get rid of the feline herpes virus. It infects parts of the nervous system and while you can send it back into inactive status, you can't get rid of those infections.

What causes it to recur?

Flare-ups of herpes in cats are actually preventable to some degree because they are caused by stress in many cases. You can usually stop this by keeping your cat in a calm, stable environment - sudden changes or new pets can add to the stress and cause active infection. It can also happen when your cat's immune system is weakened for some reason, such as another disease. The flip side is that you can talk to your vet about vitamin supplements or other immune system boosters for your cat.

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