Rhinovirus in Cats

    Feline viral rhinotracheitis is the name given to respiratory disease caused by a Herpes virus called Feline Herpes Virus 1.  This virus infects felines of all shapes and sizes.  It does not infect humans.  The virus loves to infect the eyes of cats and kittens.  It causes severe inflammation of the conjunctiva, that’s the pink membrane that lines the eyelids.  Sometimes the inflammation spreads to the cornea causing ulcers. The virus also causes sneezing, coughing, anorexia, nasal discharge and rarely, pneumonia.  Young kittens with feline herpes virus 1 have runny eyes.  The discharge is so thick and sticky that it can actually glue their lids together.  

    Unfortunately, there is no cure for Herpes Virus 1 in cats.  After the cat is infected, the virus hides in the trigeminal ganglion in the head.  During times of stress, when the cat’s immune system isn’t functioning well, it will cause disease again although usually not as severe.  Therefore, once a cat is infected with Feline Herpes Virus 1 it cannot be cured just controlled.  Infected cats are treated with antibiotics, antiviral medications, lysine and even feline interferon.  It is important to open the eyelids of kittens to allow them to drain.  I usually soften the thick crusts with a wet cotton ball and then slowly peel away the crust.  To prevent this disease, all kittens should be kept isolated from other cats until they have received all of their kitten boosters.  Although the vaccine for rhinotracheatitis provides some protection for this virus, it is not 100% effective in preventing it. 

    It is important to remember that cats infected with feline herpes virus 1 can still live happy, comfortable lives.  One of my own cats is infected.  After boarding, he would break with runny eyes and sneezing.  The outbreaks stopped after I started giving him lysine every day and started having a pet sitter come to the house. 

Here is a link to a video presentation of this information. 


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