Feline Herpesvirus 101 (FHV)
Was your cat just diagnosed with feline herpesvirus (FHV-1)?
Don’t worry – it’s not contagious to you; however, it’s very contagious to other cats!
To clarify, feline herpesvirus isn’t a sexually transmitted disease. It’s a virus infection that is similar to the human virus that causes cold sores. Feline herpesvirus most commonly affects the eyes, the respiratory tract and the gastrointestinal tract. Rarely, feline herpesvirus can potentially affect the skin, the reproductive tract, and the musculoskeletal tract1,2. In cats, clinical signs can be seen within 2-5 days of exposure to the virus. The most common clinical signs seen from feline herpesvirus include:
- Runny eyes
- Pink eyelids (e.g., conjunctivitis)
- Not eating/anorexia
- Weight loss
- Increased respiratory effort
- Loud, snoring-like breathing
- Severe ulcers on the eyes (less common)
- Rupture of the cornea (rare)
- Lameness (rare)
- Death (rare)
What’s your cat’s risk of getting feline herpesvirus?
Feline herpesvirus is a virus that is more commonly seen in the spring and summer, when kittens are born. Young, unvaccinated kittens are more at risk for this infection, as are immunosuppressed cats (due to feline immunodeficiency virus [FIV], feline leukemia [FeLV] or feline infectious peritonitis [FIP]). Also, multi-cat households or certain cat-crowded environments (again, such as shelters, catteries, outdoor feral cats) are more likely to have problems with feline herpesvirus.
Feline herpesvirus is just one of the many types of causes of feline upper respiratory infections (URI). Other causes of feline URI include:
- Feline calicivirus (FCV), a virus
- Chlamydia, a bacteria
- Rarer organisms such as Bordatella bronchiseptica or Mycoplasma
So, if you just adopted a cat from a shelter or purchased a cat from a cattery or breeder, know that transmission to your other household cats can occur when you bring a new cat into the environment. That’s because feline herpesvirus is extremely contagious and infectious. It’s typically transmitted by bodily fluids (such as discharge from the nose or eyes) or by aerosolization (e.g., sneezing)3. Sometimes unsanitary conditions due to inappropriate disinfection can further the spread of this common infection (e.g., in a cattery or shelter).
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Justine has more than 18 years of experience in the veterinary industry and is a board-certified emergency critical care veterinary specialist and toxicologist as well as the CEO and founder of Vetgirl. She is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.