Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (FVR)
What is Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (FVR)?
Feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR) is also known as feline herpesvirus 1 (FHV-1). The term “rhinotracheits” means inflammation of the nose and trachea. This virus causes an upper respiratory infection of the nose and throat in cats. FVR is one of the most common diseases of cats in the world and many cats are exposed to the virus in their lifetime. Feline herpesvirus 1 is responsible for 80% to 90% of infectious upper respiratory diseases in cats. Cats of all ages are susceptible, but kittens, pregnant cats or those with a suppressed immune system or concurrent disease are more susceptible to infection. FVR is spread between cats through direct contact with the eyes or nose of an infected cat or through contaminated objects such as food and water bowls. This virus is easily spread and is very common in areas where multiple cats are housed close together, such as multi-cat households, catteries and shelters.
What are the symptoms of FVR?
The symptoms seen in a cat with FVR involve the eyes and upper respiratory tract. Common clinical signs include:
Discharge from the nose and eyes
Conjunctivitis (inflammation of the eyelid)
Squinting of the eyes
FVR can weaken a cat’s immune system, this can leave the door open for secondary bacterial infection to set in if they cat cannot fight off the virus properly.
How is FVR diagnosed?
Diagnosing FVR is usually based on the cat’s medical history, clinical signs and physical exam. A specific diagnosis of FVR is usually not necessary. If a specific diagnosis is needed, ocular or oral swabs can be submitted to the lab for PCR testing to confirm the presence of FVR. If the virus is in a latent state (no active clinical signs) the lab test could come back with a false negative.
How is FVR treated and prevented?
A cat with a FVR infection usually never clear the virus completely. The virus lays dormant for periods of time and periodically starts reproducing causing episodes of flare-ups of sneezing and conjunctivitis. These flare-ups are usually seen at seasonal changes or during stressful times (such as Christmas, home renovations or moving house etc).
Treatment is typically based on the severity of the symptoms. Secondary eye infections are usually treated with topical eye drops. If the secondary infection seems more wide spread, oral antibiotics may also be prescribed. Supplementation with probiotics or lysine may be recommended to help support their immune system. Using a humidifier or placing your cat in the bathroom while you shower can help with congestion and with expelling any mucous in their nose. If you cat is not eating well, try warming up a canned diet a bit- this will make it smell stronger and entice them to eat. Antiviral drugs can be helpful in treating FVR, but these medications are usually only used in acute, severe cases.
Vaccination is available against FVR, it is part of the RCP core vaccine given to cats (the “R” in the vaccine name stands for rhinotracheits). Vaccination will not necessarily prevent cats from contracting FVR, but it does significantly help reduce the severity of clinical disease if the cat does catch the virus.
In areas where cats are housed together (catteries, shelters, multi-cat households) vaccination, thorough cleaning of litter boxes and dishes as well as proper general hygiene should be ensured to limit the spread of FVR if any of the cats are showing symptoms of the disease. If an infection becomes more severe, this cat should be isolated from the other cats until it makes a recovery.