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Feline Herpes


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My 1 and a 1/2 year old SV, HB, is just getting over herpes.

To me, and in my vets opinion, it was pretty bad, far from the mild symptoms described as normal for a vaccinated cat, and at one point, his wheezy breathing right after he woke up, had me ready to take him in as an emergency. This the first time he has shown any sign of having this, and I am still trying to understand how and why this happened, and how serious this is likely to be for his future health and well being.

The vet who saw him may have been a bit over dramatic in announcing the results of his PCR panel as very bad news, and I am confused, as it seems some people view herpes like a common cold, and others as a serious life long health problem. I guess even common colds can be very serious in some situations.

From what I have been reading, only 45% of infected cats experience re-activation of the virus, and often that can be managed by reducing stress, or in a worse case scenario through anti-virals. As my environment is almost always stress free, I am hopeful this will not be a frequent problem.

We have lived together over a year and HB has always been perfectly healthy. But he may have been put at some degree of additional risk, as at least as far as his records go, there appears to have been a possible well intentioned error, and he may have missed being given his 12 week FVRCP booster, so he may have only had 2 FVRCP kitten series vaccinations. The first was given at 8 weeks, and the last one I arranged for him to be given a couple weeks after he came to live with me, when he was about 20 weeks. As he was living in a multi cat high risk environment before he lived with me, he may have been more vulnerable to picking up herpes at this time. But with me he never had conjunctivitis, runny eyes or sneezing or any other symptoms of illness.

A month and a 1/2 ago we adopted a 14 week old kitten. (Username WC) Like HB he was exposed to a multi cat situation. As soon as WC came to live here I noticed he sneezed more than seemed normal, but a vet said he was healthy with no sign of anything contagious. The vet thought his sneezing was maybe a sensitivity to dust as he never sneezed once during his 2 vet appointments.

After HB and WC had been playing together for about 3 weeks, we had a house guest for a few days. We have had house guests before, but never for this long and never before did they try and stay in the upstairs loft /cat hiding place. HB is extremely shy and totally paranoid and I am sure this really stressed him out... though after a day the guest agreed to give HB back his privacy and favourite hiding places and sleep on the couch. While our visitor was here, HB also had a vet appointment to get his one year FVRCP booster and a rabies booster and WC came along as he had been having intermittent diarrhea. (This is now resolved with probiotics and was probably dietary) But WC didn’t get any vaccinations at that time.

WC has reportedly been vaccinated with the FVRCP at 8 and 12 weeks and the local vets consider his kitten series complete, and have twice refused to give him another one, even though I have concerns as I see it recommended by the AVMA that the last and 3rd booster in the kitten series be given after 16 weeks. Some of what I have read suggests vaccinations can help reduce viral shedding and lessen the chance herpes being passed to other cats. But I am not sure how much difference this might make or if it even matters anymore.

About 5 days after their shared vet appointment, both HB and WC got 1 watery eye, then 2 watery eyes and WC started sneezing more. After about 3 days WC was back to normal. But HB got one really watery eye and one slightly watery eye and then the whites of his eyes became really red and on one eye his inner eye membrane became red, very extended and slightly swollen and he also began sneezing. At the worst point 4 days ago, his breathing got wheezy and he was blowing the occasional snot bubble out his nose. He also seemed to feel really crappy.

Apparently, from the PCR result he had a very intense case of herpes, and a bit of mycoplasma that the vet doubted was a substantial part of his disease process. He is on Ciloxan eye drops for that, and the vet did not recommend anything else. Which is good as I really do not want to put the cats through a 4 to 6 week course of antibiotics unless absolutely necessary. Especially not with WC’s previous diarrhea problems. I asked the vet if HB having had a FVRCP vaccination 11 days before the PCR test swabs were taken might have produced a false positive, and he said no, the result was 75 times higher than what would be required to be considered an active infection. I have no idea what this means... or if that in itself should be a big concern, or if this is normal at the height of an infection?

So I am upset as it seems this (maybe?) should have been a preventable illness, and I am also feeling kind of stunned and confused about how this happened...and deeply sad to see my sweet natured HB suffer.

The vet thinks HB probably caught it from WC... but gee whiz... it is hard not to feel suspicious. Herpes has a 2 to 5 day incubation. I had a perfectly healthy cat, up to date on all his vaccinations, he plays with the new kitten for weeks and except for WC’s dry sneezing there was no sign either was ill. I take HB to get vaccinated and 5 days later he and WC get ill with the disease he was supposedly vaccinated against. That both him and WC seemed to get the runny eye within hours of each other, also makes me wonder if they caught this at the vet. Can herpes be picked up from a weighing scale? One was brought in from another room by an assistant when they realized it was not in the exam room, and both cats were weighed in it. Alternatively, it seems possible WC caught it from HB who had a latent infection that flared up and became contagious when he was so stressed.

I did not realize there was a substantial risk vaccinated cats could spread or become seriously ill with herpes. If I had I probably wouldn’t have risked getting a kitten unless I had proof he and HB were herpes free. I had no idea I was risking my resident cats health (or the kittens health) in a potentially serious way. I had no idea the vaccination for herpes and the quarantine period would be useless to protect them from herpes or that infected cats can have no symptoms and still be contagious on and off their whole lives.

And I really want to know more.

What percentage of vaccinated cats still have a serious life long illness from this virus?

On average, how many times a year do the 45% of herpes infected cats that have the virus reactivate usually get ill?

Do the symptoms sometimes get worse over time, or do they tend to get milder, or just stay the same as the symptoms seen in the first episode ?

Would a missed 12 week vaccination be a substantial opportunity for HB to get permanently infected with a more serious version of this virus, or did his risks become the same once he received his second vaccination after he was 16 weeks old?

Is WC more at risk of either illness, or being part of passing this back and forth if he doesn’t get his 3rd booster?

How might WC’s chronic sneezing be connected to this and does this put him at additional risk?

What kind of medical needs is a herpes infected cat in a low stress environment likely to have over time?

Are cats that get seriously ill with this likely to have some general problem with their immune system that makes them more vulnerable to other problems like developing FIP?

Both cats have Petplan health insurance, but it doesn’t cover pre existing conditions. And I expect they will consider this to be a pre existing condition. Though as far as I know it seems just as likely HB caught it from WC, or WC from HB, or maybe even both got it at the vet and not from the cattery. No idea how that could be proven one way or the other though... Or what their policies are if a cat with no previous symptoms develops herpes ...

And is it unrealistic to expect breeders who sell kittens to carefully screen for this and make sure any kittens they produce are herpes free? Or if this is so impractical it is impossible? Do breeders have a responsibility to know if their cats carry herpes and to inform potential adoptees of the potential risks the same way responsible animal shelters often would?

I am kind of on the fence about how much is the sellers responsibility and how much is buyer beware...

And are SV’s living in a 1 or 2 cat home still more susceptible to viral and bacterial infections that regular random bred cats? Do they tend to get herpes worse than regular cats?

Doing a search here on herpes, I haven’t seen a thread here totally dedicated to this subject, and as many here are experienced with kittens and immunization and also knowledgeable from a breeders perspective, I thought this would be a good place to ask.

If anyone has any insight, experiences or just personal opinions that address one or all of these questions, or maybe other people have different questions, I would really appreciate the discussion as I am still trying to sort out how I feel about this, and if there is stuff that can be done to make this less likely to be a problem.


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As far I as know, most cats carry the virus - like, 80-90%. Similar to humans, it manifests during times of stress, or with a weakened immune system. You might start adding some form of L-lysine to their food, it stops the virus from replicating, and should thereby help suppress any symptoms.


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Rebecca, the vet I was talking to thought it was more like 40% of the general cat population had been exposed, but looking for studies that show this, I think for areas in the US, you are right. Sites like Cornell University say that it is estimated as many as 95% of cats have been exposed to herpes, with 80% carrying a latent infection, and 40 to 50% of those having reoccurring episodes of symptoms, and somewhere else I read that for 90% of cat, symptoms are greatly reduced from the vaccinations.

My math isn't great, but this suggests in the US about 3% of the cat population may suffer the more serious consequences from the infection.
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Staff member
It is true that up to 90-95% of cats have bee exposed to herpes (depending on what source you read), and the vaccines do not prevent the disease, but hopefully, if the cat does develop symptoms, they will be milder because of the vaccines. I don't know that one missed vaccine would make that significant of difference, there was a time when the AAFP recommended only giving two vaccines to cats in low population environments (e.g., a pet home).

It is impossible to tell who will relapse, when they will relapse, or how often they will relapse. Many years ago I purchased a kitten who became sick two days after her two week quarantine period. Unfortunately, because she had by then been exposed to other kittens they were all placed in lifelong quarantine, where they remain to this day. The original cat is chronically ill - she always has a runny nose and/or eye, and some days she wheezes and coughs. The others who were (and remain) exposed to her have never shown a sign of illness.

Having said that, receiving a modified live vaccine just 11 days prior to being tested can definitely produce a false positive result. I also don't understand what your vet is talking about that the result was 75 times higher than what would be required to be considered an active infection - as far as I know PCR results are only positive or negative, they don't give a quantitative result. Mycoplasma can also produce upper respiratory infection symptoms, and if WB is still showing symptoms I would ask that he be treated for the mycoplasma (doxycyline), or you might even consider running another PCR.


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Thanks for sharing your experience Patti, and sorry for your kitties in quarantine, esp. the one that is chronically ill.

I still haven't seen the test, and I do not know what company was used, but idexx test looks like it recently began grading the degree of active infection. I am guessing maybe this is what the vet might have seen?

I hope the missed vaccination did not create an opportune gap in HBs immunity. But on the positive side, if HB has been infected with this for over a year, and this was his first episode, maybe just making sure he always has a way to avoid guests is all it will take for him to stay healthy.

I was really frightened by how ill this made him. I was thinking he was vaccinated against this and was immune so it was quite a shock.

Depending on symptoms I may eventually get further diagnostics and treat them both for the mycoplasma, but from what I read researchers have never induced disease if this is the only pathogen introduced, and it is also found in the system of many healthy cats. And right now, as long as he is healthy, the last thing WC needs is to be on antibiotics. He had some serious GI issues a couple weeks back...


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A few answers I have found ....
“Usually the clinical signs associated with the reactivation process are significantly milder than those seen during the primary infection, and reactivation can certainly be asymptomatic.”

So if HB recently caught this, hopefully if he has another outbreak it will be a lot milder.

It must have been a really hard decision for Patti to decide to put her exposed cats into lifetime quarantine, especially as it seems many breeders may accept this as an endemic virus that can not be eradicated... and I can see where that may be a reasonable conclusion...

It seems the common belief that lysin helps may be a myth as some research does not support this

I also heard on a Veterinary podcast I can’t find again, that lysine added to the food actually seemed to have a slightly worse effect than no lysine at all, and if it was used it should be given by itself.

There may be better evidence to support the use of bovine lactoferrin, but I am not sure if this has been tested on actual cats or just in petrified dishes..

Also, maybe this is why WC has a tendency to sneeze?
“some kittens that have recovered from the acute disease are left with complications, notably chronic rhinitis.”
Just an update on our experience with Herpes.

Sadly HB still has one eye that runs at least part of every day, so he has never managed to clear the infection. I am not sure if this is uncomfortable for him but he seems to eat and play normally, so hopefully it isn't going to be a life long drag on his well being. WC seems to have gotten over his mild form of the infection, and the sneezing I wondered about when he was younger seems to have gone away.

I still can't find much information on the usual prognosis for cats that have herpes which isn't just the mild form WC seems to have had. And there mostly seems to be a lot of folk remedies, and reassurances that with vaccinations the disease is usually mild.

I have submitted a claim to HB’s health insurance, as in the future their support may be important, and it will be interesting to see how they respond, and if they have factual information that points to how he contracted this (pre-existing for a year with no symptoms, or something he recently caught?).

And the Herpes test was done by IDEX and does now show the quantity of active virus. Some sections have been redacted for privacy reasons. DA5BD6BE-B0A8-4B47-8D6D-B3702C46594B.jpeg