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Sneezing Cats and Feline Herpes: Info for Your Cat Owners

September 6, 2016

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If your cat is sneezing, sneezing, and sneezing, there is a good chance that it has contracted an upper respiratory infection caused by feline herpes.

What is feline herpes?

Feline herpes is one of the two major viral groups responsible for most feline upper respiratory infections. Depending on the virus, your veterinarian may refer to these upper respiratory infections as feline viral rhinopneumonitis (FVR), rhinotracheitis virus, and/or feline herpesvirus type 1 (FHV-1).

Is feline herpes contagious for people?

There is no need for people to worry, feline herpes is breed specific and can only infect cats. For cats, however, it is highly contagious and can infect all feline breeds of any size and age.  Because it is so communicable it is able to rapidly spread through a multi-cat home, cattery or shelter and can present one of the most widespread infectious problems that a cat owner will ever have to confront. 

Why is feline herpes so contagious for cats?

Feline herpes disease symptoms are similar to a human cold.  It spreads most commonly through direct contact with discharge from an infected cat’s eyes, nose, or mouth.  Much like a human sneeze, an infected cat’s sneeze can shed the virus particles to contaminate an area inhabited by a healthy cat. Shared water and food bowls, litter boxes, and even the human hands who pet them can carry the virus; and, depending upon the environmental conditions, once the virus has been shed it can survive and spread the disease.

What are the symptoms of feline herpes?

The main symptoms of feline herpes are:

  • One to two days of severe bouts of sneezing
  • Watery eyes and a runny nose
  • Fever and loss of appetite
  • Watery discharge of eyes and nose will become mucoid and pus-like causing the cat to breathe with its mouth open
  • Possible development of a spastic cough, drooling and extreme lethargy
  • Possible inflammation and ulcerations of the corneas

Keep It From Spreading

It is important to keep in mind that some cats may only exhibit mild symptoms and recovery from the disease is not as difficult for an adult.  However, kittens born from infected queens and/or highly stressed cats, such as ones suffering from weakened immune systems or housed in crowded settings and living with emotional distress, usually develop more severe symptoms and the disease can be fatal. The death rate among kittens can be very high. There are clinical tests that can confirm if a cat is a carrier, and these tests should be considered for use in multi-cat households, catteries and shelters.
A dilute solution of bleach and water can be used to disinfect any item that the sick cat has come into contact with -- bedding, bowls, cages, and toys. Whenever possible, sick cats should be isolated so as to not infect healthy cats, and caregivers should make it a habit to follow a strict hygiene routine when handling sick cats or working in an isolation area.

Is there a way to keep a new cat from passing feline herpes to other cats?

Feline breeds of all sizes and ages can be infected and become carriers of the virus so it is always a good idea to isolate newly adopted cats or ones brought in to a cattery or shelter environment for observation purposes.  Feline herpes symptoms usually appear within two to seventeen days after a cat has been exposed to the virus. The isolation of a seemingly healthy cat for ten to fourteen days should allow time for the symptoms to appear, if there has been an exposure. This observation time can help to keep the disease from contaminating healthy animals.  There are also clinical tests that can confirm if a cat is a carrier, and these tests should be considered for use in multi-cat households, catteries and shelters.

What are ways to prevent the further spread of feline herpes?

The most effective step toward the prevention of feline herpes virus is to vaccinate.  It has been found that if a cat is exposed to an individual strain of the virus that is not covered by the vaccine, the resulting illness is much milder. While these vaccines cannot offer a 100 percent control, they are considered highly effective and recommended for use. 

For more information about Feline health care visit our products page to find solutions!

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