Is Your Cat’s Eye Herpes Contagious? What You Need to Know

What is Feline Herpesvirus?

Feline herpesvirus (FHV), also known as feline viral rhinotracheitis, is a highly contagious upper respiratory infection in cats caused by feline herpesvirus type 1 (FHV-1). It is one of the most common causes of respiratory infections and eye diseases in cats.

FHV-1 is spread through direct contact with infected nasal, oral, or ocular secretions. The virus enters the body through the eyes, nose, or mouth. Cats most commonly become infected by close contact with other infected cats. The virus can be spread through sharing food bowls, grooming, sneezing, or touching contaminated surfaces. Kittens are most susceptible, but cats of any age can become infected.

Common symptoms of feline herpesvirus infection include sneezing, discharge from the nose and eyes, conjunctivitis (inflammation of the eye), ulcers on the cornea, fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, and swollen lymph nodes. In severe cases, pneumonia, hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver), or sudden death can occur. The infection is lifelong with periods of dormancy interspersed with flare-ups of symptoms.

Is Feline Herpesvirus Contagious to Other Cats?

Feline herpesvirus is highly contagious between cats. The main transmission routes are through direct contact with contaminated body fluids.

The virus spreads via saliva, respiratory secretions from sneezing/coughing, eye and nasal discharges, and infected birth fluids. Cats most commonly catch it by close interactions with infected cats, sharing food/water bowls and litter boxes. Mother cats can also pass the virus on to kittens at birth if they are actively shedding the virus (Source).

two cats nuzzling each other

Feline herpesvirus is species-specific and only infects cats. It does not infect other pets like dogs. The virus can rapidly spread between cats in multi-cat households or shelters.

Can Humans Catch Cat Eye Herpes?

No, humans cannot be infected with feline herpesvirus. The herpesviruses are species-specific, meaning the feline herpesvirus only infects cats. Humans can only be infected by human herpesviruses like HSV-1 and HSV-2. While humans often refer to feline herpesvirus infections as “cat eye herpes,” this is a bit misleading as the viruses are completely distinct from each other. Feline herpesvirus cannot complete its replication cycle within human cells, so it is unable to establish an infection in humans.

The feline herpesvirus is spread through close contact between cats, usually by respiratory secretions or saliva. Humans do not provide a suitable environment for the virus to replicate and be transmitted. As a result, feline herpesvirus is not contagious to humans at all. Cat owners can safely interact with and handle cats with feline herpesvirus without risk of contracting an infection themselves.

In summary, while feline herpesvirus causes a common upper respiratory infection in cats, humans are at no risk of contracting cat eye herpes. The viruses that infect cats do not have the ability to spread to humans.[1]


[1] https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/feline-herpesvirus-infection-or-feline-viral-rhinotracheitis

What Are the Symptoms of Cat Eye Herpes?

The most common symptoms of cat eye herpes involve inflammation and irritation of the eyes. According to the VCA Animal Hospitals, the eye symptoms may include: conjunctivitis, characterized by red, swollen tissue surrounding the eye and eyelids. There may be ocular discharge ranging from clear to yellow or green in color.

The Veterinary Vision Center reports additional symptoms like chemosis, which is swelling under the eyelids, and squinting or excessive blinking. Corneal ulcers may also develop on the surface of the eye due to the virus. These ulcers can be very painful and lead to corneal scarring if left untreated.

Besides eye symptoms, upper respiratory symptoms may also occur with cat herpes, including sneezing, nasal discharge, coughing, fever, and loss of appetite. The eye symptoms tend to recur when the cat is stressed or immunocompromised.

Is There a Cure for Feline Herpes?

Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for feline herpesvirus (FHV-1) infection in cats. The virus remains dormant in the cat’s body for life and can reactivate to cause recurrent flare ups of symptoms (Feline Herpesvirus 1 (FHV-1) Infection – PetMD). While antiviral medications may help control active infections, they do not eliminate the virus completely.

Since there is no cure, treatment focuses on managing symptoms and reducing the frequency and severity of flare ups. Vets may prescribe antiviral medications, lysine supplements, eye ointments, and other supportive care to help relieve symptoms and keep the cat comfortable during active viral outbreaks. Reducing stress, feeding a high quality diet, and limiting exposure to other infected cats can also help reduce recurrences.

cat receiving eye medication

While feline herpesvirus cannot be cured, most cats go on to live normal lives with proper supportive care and management of flare ups. Keeping the virus in remission is key to minimizing its impact over the lifespan of an infected cat.

How is Feline Herpesvirus Treated?

There is no cure for feline herpesvirus, so treatment focuses on managing symptoms and reducing flare-ups. Some common treatments include:

Antiviral medications like famciclovir or topical antiviral ointments can help reduce viral replication during flare-ups. These medications may help shorten the duration and severity of symptoms (Source).

Eye medications like artificial tears, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatory eye drops can help manage eye inflammation, irritation, and secondary infections. Gentle cleaning of the eyes with saline solution can also help remove discharge and prevent irritation (Source).

Lysine supplements may also be beneficial, as lysine helps inhibit viral replication. Consult your veterinarian on recommended dosing.

Severe cases may require hospitalization for more intensive treatment like IV fluids, oxygen therapy, and force-feeding.

While treatment can help manage symptoms, flare-ups may recur throughout the cat’s life. Working closely with your vet is important for optimizing quality of life.

How to Prevent Spreading Cat Eye Herpes

Since feline herpesvirus is highly contagious between cats, there are some important steps cat owners can take to prevent it from spreading:

person disinfecting cat items

  • Isolate infected cats from other household cats, especially kittens who are more susceptible.
  • Wash hands thoroughly after touching infected cats to prevent transmitting virus particles.
  • Disinfect any surfaces, bowls, litter boxes etc. that infected cats contact using a dilute bleach solution.
  • Vaccinate uninfected cats – vaccination is critical for controlling feline herpesvirus spread. Kittens should receive an initial series of 2-3 vaccines starting at 8 weeks old.
  • Ask shelters about a cat’s health status before adopting and quarantine new cats.
  • Avoid exposing cats to stressful situations that can trigger recrudescence and shedding.
  • Discuss antiviral medication with your vet to reduce shedding of the virus.

By taking proper precautions and managing infected cats, cat owners can effectively prevent the spread of feline herpesvirus to other cats.

Living with a Cat with Feline Herpes

If your cat has feline herpesvirus, you’ll need to make some adjustments to help manage flare ups and keep your cat healthy and comfortable. Here are some tips for living with a cat that has feline herpes:

To manage flare ups, keep a close eye on your cat for any signs of worsening symptoms like increased nasal discharge, sneezing, or eye inflammation. Contact your vet as soon as you notice any flare up so treatment can begin right away. Your vet may prescribe antiviral medication, eye drops, or lysine supplements to help shorten the duration and severity of flare ups.

You can reduce stressors for your cat at home by providing lots of warm, soft places for them to rest, keeping their environment clean and quiet, and limiting major changes to their routine. Stress can trigger flare ups, so minimizing stress is key.

cat resting comfortably at home

Practice good routine care by gently wiping your cat’s nose and eyes daily with a warm, damp cloth to keep their nasal passages and eyes clear of discharge. Feed them a high quality diet and keep their water bowl fresh and full.

Check out this article from VCA Hospitals for more tips on caring for a cat with herpes: https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/feline-herpesvirus-infection-or-feline-viral-rhinotracheitis

Long Term Outlook for Cats with Herpes

With proper treatment and care, many cats diagnosed with feline herpesvirus can live long and relatively healthy lives. The prognosis for cats with herpes is generally good, especially when caught and treated early.

According to PetMD, most cats with feline herpesvirus symptoms will recover within 10-14 days with supportive veterinary care and treatment. However, the herpesvirus never fully goes away. Once a cat is infected, they carry the virus for life.

Cats can experience flare ups of symptoms periodically when stressed or immunocompromised. During flare ups, symptoms recur and the cat will need veterinary care. With prompt treatment, cats can return to their normal healthy selves again.

While there is no cure for feline herpesvirus, the treatments available are very effective at managing symptoms and minimizing flare ups. Many cats live long, high quality lives while managing their chronic herpesvirus infection. With a proactive treatment approach and attentive home care between flare ups, the prognosis is good.

Key Takeaways

Feline herpesvirus (FHV) is an extremely contagious virus that affects cats. It is spread through direct contact and can cause upper respiratory infection in cats. The main symptoms are eye inflammation and discharge, sneezing, and sores on the nose/face. There is no cure, but antiviral medications can help treat symptoms. Keeping infected cats separate, disinfecting shared items, and reducing stress levels can help prevent spreading FHV. While cats remain infected for life, most recover well and only have occasional flare ups. Humans cannot catch cat eye herpes, but can transmit the virus between cats on their hands/clothing. Proper hygiene is important. In summary, FHV requires lifelong management but most cats go on to live long healthy lives.

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