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Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis: Symptoms, Causes, Preventions, & Treatments

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Our pets are susceptible to a host of infections and illnesses, very much like humans. And, also very much like humans, there are several vaccines available that can help protect our pets from contracting many of these conditions. Or at least reduce the severity of the infection if and when it occurs. When it comes to cats, one such illness is the herpesvirus infection, or Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (FVR).

What Is Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis?

Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (sometimes referred to as feline influenza or feline pneumonia) can affect all wild and domestic cats. Still, the infection tends to be more serious in young kittens and cats with other chronic illnesses. The feline herpesvirus-type 1 causes FVR, which in turn is one of the most common causes of conjunctivitis in cats. It’s also a significant cause of many upper respiratory illnesses in felines.

The virus does not go away entirely and instead remains latent in a cat’s system. Therefore, once a cat is infected with FVR, they will become a carrier of the disease for life, even if they aren’t showing any symptoms. However, they are only infectious when the virus is reactivated. Various things can cause reactivation, including stress and other illnesses.

The problem is, although in most cases, cats with the reactivated virus will show symptoms, some may be asymptomatic, which means they could infect your cat even though they appear healthy.

How Do Cats Get Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis?

FVR passes from one infected cat to another susceptible feline. Direct contact with the virus, either through saliva, nasal or eye discharge, or touching contaminated surfaces, are all possibilities of infection.

The virus can live on multiple surfaces, including furniture, clothing, food bowls, bedding, toys, kitty litter, and more. Fortunately, the virus will only be infectious when it’s moist, and it dries up relatively quickly; usually, within a few hours. If you get the virus on your hands or other parts of your skin, it typically remains infectious for about 30 minutes.

If a cat is unvaccinated, then these situations pose a high risk of infection. A vaccinated cat will be less susceptible to FVR, although they could still contract the illness, especially if they aren’t up-to-date on their boosters. However, if vaccinated, the case of FVR may not be as severe.

If your cat becomes infected, you can expect to see symptoms appear in about 2-5 days, but your cat is still infectious during this incubation period. The entire course of the infection typically lasts anywhere from 10 to 20 days.

Signs and Symptoms of Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis

Many of the signs and symptoms of FVR resemble a cold, such as nasal congestion, sneezing, runny eyes, or discharge from the eyes and nose. Your cat could also end up with conjunctivitis or even keratitis, which is inflammation of the cornea. You might also notice that your cat seems lethargic, doesn’t want to eat, and they could also run a fever.

Cat yawning in bed

What to Do If Your Cat Has Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis

If you suspect your cat has FVR, or if your cat just seems like they aren’t feeling like themself, it’s essential to see your vet as soon as possible. Your vet will likely do a thorough examination of your cat, including checking the eyes for signs of corneal ulcers or inflammation. They will likely use a fluorescein dye to stain the cornea, and if they notice ulcers in addition to clinical signs of FVR may make a presumptive diagnosis of the condition.

For a more definitive diagnosis, your vet may collect samples from the discharge from your cat’s eyes and nose or the back of the throat. However, this type of testing won’t turn up many results if the virus is latent.

Typical Treatments for Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis

If your cat has a mild case of FVR with no major complications, your vet will treat the symptoms. For example, your vet will likely prescribe some topical eye medications if your cat has corneal ulcers. It’s imperative to stay on top of corneal ulcers to prevent permanent eye damage.

If your cat is experiencing nasal congestion, your vet may recommend some practices similar to if you were experiencing a stuffy nose. For example, running the shower and bringing your cat into a steamy bathroom for about 15 minutes (just don’t put your cat in the shower; they won’t like that very much).

If your cat seems to have appetite loss, it could be because the respiratory infection is hindering their sense of smell. Therefore, switching to more palatable food with a more robust odor and flavor might help the situation.

Your vet may also prescribe antibiotics to reduce the risk of secondary infections. And in some cases, they may also suggest FortiFlora®, a probiotic that has proven effective in reducing the illness’s length.

A relatively new treatment is also available, called Polyprenyl Immunostimulant, the only USDA-approved therapeutic for FVR. Studies have shown that it can reduce the severity of FVR in cats.

No matter what, first talk to your vet before beginning any type of changes or treatment with your cat, and certainly before giving your cat medications or supplements of any kind.

If your cat’s case of FVR is more serious, your vet may recommend hospitalization to undergo more intensive treatment options. You can help decrease the odds of the illness reactivating by reducing your cat’s exposure to other diseases and keeping your feline friend stress-free.

Therefore, make sure to stay current with vet check-ups and provide your cat with engaging activities that can help keep them calm, like a lick mat. These items help encourage your pet to lick, releasing endorphins that can help calm them, keeping them from getting stressed out and anxious.

Protecting Other Cats and Family Members If Your Cat Has FVR

If you have other cats in your household, even if they are vaccinated, separate them immediately, even if your cat is not yet showing symptoms. Remember, a cat is infectious during the incubation period. Then, keep your other cats isolated from your infected cat for three weeks after symptoms appear.

The virus that causes FVR only affects cats; still, other secondary infections can arise that are contagious to humans. Therefore, always wash your hands after handling your cat, and if you do start showing signs of any respiratory infection, consult your doctor.

Preventing Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis

The best way to prevent FVR is to ensure your cat is properly vaccinated. Consult with your vet about the proper vaccination schedule for your feline friend, and stick to any necessary booster shots to keep the immunity as strong as possible.

If your cat will be around other cats, such as a boarding facility, talk to your vet about any necessary extra precautions you might need to take. It’s also vital to take proper care of your pet’s belongings. If you believe items in your home are contaminated, you can kill the virus with disinfectants. You can use a bleach solution on hard surfaces, soaking them for at least five minutes.

For soft surfaces, like clothing and bedding, machine-washing in hot water and detergent is acceptable. You can clean furniture with an upholstery cleaner and wash any items that can’t be machine-washed or bleached with soap and warm water.

If you handle an infected cat, ensure you wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap, getting under your fingernails. Then, for extra measure, follow up with an effective hand sanitizer.

Overall, if you take the right precautions, with proper care, a healthy diet, and stress management, a cat with FVR can live out a relatively normal and healthy life. For more helpful tips and information, check out the rest of our blog. We strive to provide you with need-to-know info as a pet parent so that you can make informed choices about your furry family members.

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