Most to all cats are exposed to feline herpes virus at a young age. Once a cat is carrying the virus, they will have it lifelong. Typically, the virus will remain latent in the body and the cat will show no symptoms. When something suppresses the immune system (most commonly stress), the virus will become active and the symptoms can appear.
Symptoms of an upper respiratory tract infection include sneezing (most common), conjunctivitis (inflammation of the tissue surrounding the eye), coughing, and even ulcers that develop on the eyeball. When the infection is caused by a virus alone, clear discharge may be seen from the nose or eyes. Unfortunately, viral infections often pave the way for secondary bacterial infections. We know a bacterial infection is involved when the discharge becomes colored (yellow or green).
The most frustrating part of treating upper respiratory tract infections in cats is that the virus is difficult to impossible to treat. There are no inexpensive, effective anti-viral medications readily available. When a bacterial infection is present, antibiotics can do a good job clearing it up, but these medications will do nothing to treat the viral component of the disease. Thankfully, in time, the cat’s immune system will typically beat the virus into submission and send it back into latency.
Cats that have severe viral upper respiratory infections or cats that are prone to recurrent infections may benefit from a supplement known as L-Lysine. This is a type of protein that works to support the immune system to fight the viral component of the disease. It can also be used to prevent recurrent or chronic infections at bay. L-Lysine comes in many forms made specifically for cats.
As mentioned, stress is a very common trigger for upper respiratory tract infections in cats. For this reason, we often see these infections following a stressful period or event in a cat’s life. For example, it is very common that newly adopted cats may show these symptoms shortly after entering their new home, having surgery, or meeting a new housemate for the first time. It is important to recognize the symptoms and consult your veterinarian as to the best course of action to keep your feline friend as comfortable as possible while dealing with this often miserable condition.
article written by:
Dr. Derek Williamson
Companion Animal Hospital Vernon Hills