Felis ISSN 2398-2950

Feline herpesvirus disease

Synonym(s): FHV, FHV-1

Contributor(s): Leah Cohn, Susan Dawson, David Godfrey, David Gould


  • Cause: Feline herpesvirus-1.
  • Signs: acute upper respiratory tract disease; conjunctivitis, keratitis.
  • Diagnosis: clinical signs, viral testing (PCR, viral isolation).
  • Treatment: antivirals.
  • Prognosis: good, but recrudescent disease is common.
    Print off the owner factsheet on Feline Herpes Virus (FHV-1) Feline Herpes virus (FHV-1)  to give to your client.



Predisposing factors


  • Exposure to an FHV-1 infected cat that is actively shedding the virus in nasal secretions.


  • Viral infection can cause lysis of turbinate bones producing permanent damage. This may be involved in the development of chronic nasal disease.
  • Infection of the lower respiratory tract can occasionally occur leading to higher mortality.


  • Primary infection in tonsils, nasal mucosa, conjunctiva and cornea, causing acute rhinotracheitis, conjunctivitis and ulcerative keratitis.
  • Virus becomes latent in trigeminal ganglion, and lifelong infection ensues.
  • Recrudescent disease develops in immunocompromized or stressed patients, leading to recurrent signs including conjunctivitis and keratitis.
  • Secondary bacterial infection can occur following the primary viral damage.


  • Primary infection: signs develop 2-6 days following infection. Ocular signs usually last 2-3 weeks.
  • Recrudescent infection: ocular signs usually last 2-3 weeks but can be persistent.
  • Most cats show improvement in clinical signs within two weeks.
  • Recrudescence in times of stress is possible throughout life. Important examples of stressors include: visits to boarding cattery, veterinary practices, studs, shows; parturition and lactation; serious illness and corticosteroid administration.


  • Following acute infection cats become latent carriers of the virus. In common with other alpha-herpesviruses, such as herpes simplex of humans, the virus remains latent in trigeminal ganglia and following periods of stress is re-activated with or without concurrent clinical signs. The carrier state is lifelong and cats are a source of infection to other susceptible cats while they are re-shedding virus.
  • FHV-1 is globally widespread and common - exposure rates >90% have been reported.


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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Gould D J (2011) Feline Herpesvirus-1: Ocular manifestations, diagnosis and treatment options. J Fel Med Surg 13 (5), 333-346 PubMed
  • Malik R, Lessels N S, Webb S et al (2009) Treatment of feline herpesvirus-1 associated disease in cats with famciclovir and related drugs. J Feline Med Surg 11 (1), 40-48 PubMed.
  • Helps C R, Lait P, Damhuis A et al (2005) Factors associated with upper respiratory tract disease caused by feline herpesvirus, feline calicivirus, Chlamydophila felis and Bordetella bronchiseptica in cats: experience from 218 European catteries. Vet Rec 156 (21), 669-673 PubMed.
  • Williams D L, Robinson J C, Lay E et al (2005) Efficacy of topical acyclovir for the treatment of feline herpetic keratitis: results of a prospective clinical trial and data from in vitro investigations. Vet Rec 157 (9), 254-257 PubMed.
  • Helps C, Reeves N, Egan K et al (2003) Detection of Chlamydophila felis and feline herpesvirus by multiplex real-time PCR analysis. J Clin Microbiol 41 (6), 2734-2736 PubMed.
  • Maggs D J, Nasisse M P, Kass P H (2003) Efficacy of oral supplementation with L-lysine in cats latently infected with feline herpesvirus. Am J Vet Res 64 (1), 37-42 PubMed.
  • Andrew S E (2001) Ocular manifestations of feline herpesvirusJ Feline Med Surg (1), 9-16 PubMed.
  • Dawson S, Willoughby K, Gaskell R M et al (2001) A field trial to assess the effect of vaccination against feline herpesvirus, feline calicivirus and feline panleucopenia virus in 6-week-old kittens. J Feline Med Surg (1), 17-22 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Hartley C (2014) The conjunctiva and third eyelid. In: BSAVA Manual of Canine and Feline Ophthalmology. 3rd edn. Eds David Gould & Gill McLellan, BSAVA Publications, Gloucs. pp 182-189.
  • Gould D J, Papasouliotis K (2013) Veterinary Microbiology. In: Gelatt's Veterinary Ophthalmology. 5th edn. Eds B Gilger, K N Gelatt.
  • Gaskell R M, Radford A D & Dawson S (2006) Feline Respiratory Disease. In:Infectious diseases of the Dog and Cat. Ed: CE Greene, Elsevier Inc.