Overview: Feline viral rhinotracheitis, caused by feline herpesvirus (FHV), is an upper respiratory tract disease that is often associated with feline calicivirus and bacteria. In most cats, FHV remains latent after recovery, and they become lifelong virus carriers. Stress or corticosteroid treatment may lead to virus reactivation and shedding in oronasal and conjunctival secretions.
Infection: Sick cats shed FHV in oral, nasal and conjunctival secretions; shedding may last for 3 weeks. Infection requires direct contact with a shedding cat.
Disease signs: Feline herpesvirus infections cause acute rhinitis and conjunctivitis, usually accompanied by fever, depression and anorexia. Affected cats may also develop typical ulcerative, dendritic keratitis.
Diagnosis: Samples consist of conjunctival, corneal or oropharyngeal swabs, corneal scrapings or biopsies. It is not recommended that cats recently vaccinated with a modified-live virus vaccine are sampled. Positive PCR results should be interpreted with caution, as they may be produced by low-level shedding or viral latency.
Disease management: 'Tender loving care' from the owner, supportive therapy and good nursing are essential. Anorexic cats should be fed blended, highly palatable food - warmed up if required. Mucolytic drugs (eg, bromhexine) or nebulisation with saline may offer relief. Broad-spectrum antibiotics should be given to prevent secondary bacterial infections. Topical antiviral drugs may be used for the treatment of acute FHV ocular disease. The virus is labile and susceptible to most disinfectants, antiseptics and detergents.
Vaccination recommendations: Two injections, at 9 and 12 weeks of age, are recommended, with a first booster 1 year later. Boosters should be given annually to at-risk cats. For cats in low-risk situations (eg, indoor-only cats), 3-yearly intervals suffice. Cats that have recovered from FHV-associated disease are usually not protected for life against further disease episodes; vaccination of recovered cats is therefore recommended.