Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Feline Herpesvirus: What You Need to Know

Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

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Feline viral rhinotracheitis is a contagious respiratory infection. Learn more about its causes, symptoms, and treatment in this article.

Feline viral rhinotracheitis, also known as feline herpesvirus type-1 (FHV-1), is a highly contagious respiratory infection that affects cats. In this article, we will discuss the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for feline viral rhinotracheitis.



Feline viral rhinotracheitis is caused by the feline herpesvirus type 1 (FHV-1), which is a highly contagious virus that affects cats. The virus is primarily transmitted through respiratory secretions, such as saliva or mucus, and can be spread through direct contact with infected material, such as bedding or food bowls. 


It can also be transmitted indirectly through contaminated hands or clothing. Kittens and cats that are immunocompromised, such as those with feline leukemia virus (FeLV) or feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), are more susceptible to contracting the virus. Additionally, overcrowding, stress, and poor hygiene can increase the risk of infection.


FHV-1 can survive for long periods of time outside of a host and can remain dormant in an infected cat's body, meaning that a cat can shed the virus even when it is not showing any symptoms. This can make it difficult to prevent the spread of the virus, as an infected cat may be asymptomatic and unknowingly transmit the virus to other cats. 


The virus is highly contagious and can be transmitted through close contact with an infected cat, such as through sharing food bowls or cat litter boxes or through contact with contaminated surfaces or materials. It can also be transmitted through the air, making it possible for an infected cat to transmit the virus to other cats even if they are not in direct contact. Cats that are housed in close quarters, such as in shelters or breeding facilities, are at an increased risk of contracting FHV-1. 


Stress, such as the stress of being in a new environment or the stress of being housed with unfamiliar cats, can also weaken a cat's immune system and increase its susceptibility to the virus. 


Poor hygiene, such as dirty litter boxes or contaminated food bowls, can also contribute to the spread of FHV-1. Kittens and cats with compromised immune systems, such as those with FeLV or FIV, are also at an increased risk of contracting FHV-1 and may have more severe symptoms if they do become infected.


Feline viral rhinotracheitis can cause a range of symptoms in infected cats, including:

  • Uncontrolled sneezing attacks

  • Nasal discharge

  • Eye irritation

  • Conjunctivitis (inflammation of the lining of the eye)

  • Corneal ulcers (ulcers on the surface of the eye)

  • Fever

  • Loss of appetite

  • Lethargy

  • Depression

  • Enlargement of lymph nodes


The severity of the symptoms can vary from cat to cat, and some infected cats may not show any symptoms at all. In some cases, the virus can lead to more serious complications, such as pneumonia or corneal ulcers. It is important to seek veterinary care if you suspect that your cat may be infected with FHV-1, as the virus can be serious and can lead to long-term health issues if left untreated.



Treatment for feline viral rhinotracheitis will depend on the severity of the infection and the symptoms exhibited by the infected cat. In mild cases, supportive care, such as providing the cat with plenty of fluids and keeping its eyes clean, may be sufficient. 


In more severe cases, antiviral medications, such as acyclovir or valacyclovir, may be prescribed to help reduce the severity of the infection and speed up the recovery process. These medications can be administered orally or intravenously, depending on the severity of the infection and the preference of the veterinarian.


In cases where the virus has caused complications, such as pneumonia or corneal ulcers, additional treatment may be necessary. This could include antibiotics to treat the secondary infection, medications to reduce inflammation and swelling, or surgery to repair damaged tissue.


Cats that have recovered from feline viral rhinotracheitis can remain carriers of the virus and may shed the virus periodically, so it is important to practice good hygiene and limit the cat's contact with other cats to prevent the spread of the virus.


In addition to treatment, it is important to boost the infected cat's immune system to help it fight off the infection. This can be done through probiotics, supplements like L-lysine, proper nutrition, stress reduction, and keeping the cat up to date on its vaccinations.


The prognosis for cats with feline viral rhinotracheitis depends on the severity of the infection and the overall health of the cat. In mild cases, with appropriate treatment and nutritional support, the prognosis is generally good, and most cats will fully recover. However, in more severe cases, the virus can lead to serious complications, such as pneumonia or corneal ulcers, which can have a more serious impact on the cat's health and long-term prognosis.


Even with treatment, some cats may experience long-term health issues as a result of the infection, such as chronic sneezing or recurrent respiratory infections. In these cases, the prognosis may be more guarded, and the cat may require ongoing medical management.

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