If your vet has ever told your cat has herpes in his eye, it doesn’t mean that your vet is accusing your cat of having some rather unusual… favorite pastimes. Herpesvirus is very common in cats but it is not quite the same as the herpesvirus that people can get.
In cats, the herpesvirus typically results in eye problems, though it can trigger upper respiratory signs as well (sneezing, conjunctivitis, etc.) unlike herpes infections in people. Herpes infections in cats are sporadic and are triggered by stress - adjusting to a new home or being boarded. Even their owner packing a suitcase is enough to bring on a herpes episode for some cats.
Herpesvirus infection is the most common cause of conjunctivitis (inflammation of the conjunctiva, or tissues lining the inner eyelids and whites of the eye) in cats. Many cats are infected with the virus and do not show any signs of clinical illness. Luckily, in most cases, herpesvirus conjunctivitis is self-limiting and will resolve within a couple weeks.
When it does not resolve, the most common clinical signs of the resulting conjunctivitis are squinting or closing of the eye, red, swollen tissue surrounding the eye and eyelids, eye discharge that may range from clear to yellow-greenish in color, and pesky upper respiratory infection symptoms such as sneezing or nasal discharge. These signs often appear suddenly and are especially common after stressful situations. When cats do have a flare-up, they are more susceptible to secondary bacterial infections.
There is no cure for herpes and diagnosis is usually presumptive, but the therapeutic goal is to reduce the frequency and severity of recurrences. Minimizing the chance of infection by feeding a premium diet, supplementing the diet with l-lysine daily, reducing stressful situations and proper vaccination against preventable causes is the best defense. While you may do most of these things normally, supplementing with lysine is probably not on your daily to-do list.
L-Lysine is an amino acid used to decrease the severity of symptoms such as inflammation of the eye caused by feline herpesvirus. Lysine is available in many forms and is an over-the-counter supplement. Many finicky felines won’t eat the widely available powder or liquid form from your local herb and nutrition store. I have found the easiest way to administer it is treats with lysine in them. In my experience, giving lysine treats daily greatly reduces herpes-induced conjunctivitis flare-up. Many cats do well with the the Vetri-Lysine brand but you may want to try and couple and find which ones your cat likes best. First, make sure your vet thinks herpes is a possibility and that your cat is a good candidate for lysine.
Did you know? January is National Eye Care Month. Pet eye problems accelerate more quickly than diseases or conditions of other body systems and can become serious very quickly. If you think your pet has an eye problem, act quickly and seek a professional veterinary opinion.