Feline Herpesvirus 1 (FHV-1) Infection - Head Cold in Cats

Feline Rhinotracheitis Virus Infection (Rhinitis) in Cats

Feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR) is an upper respiratory infection of the nose and throat in cats. It is caused by, and also know as feline herpesvirus 1 (FHV-1). Cats of all ages are susceptible, but kittens are at a higher risk and may be infected at about five weeks of age. Pregnant cats or those suffering from a lowered immunity due to a pre-existing disease are also at higher risk.


Symptoms and Types


Some infected cats can remain without symptoms, yet act as carriers and spread the infection to other non-infected cats. The following symptoms may also be sporadic in a FHV-1 carrier:

  • Sudden, uncontrollable attacks of sneezing
  • Watery or pus containing nasal discharge
  • Loss of sense of smell
  • Spasm of the eyelid muscle resulting in closure of the eye (blepharospasm)
  • Eye discharge
  • Inflammation of the conjunctiva of the eye (conjunctivitis)
  • Keratitis (inflammation of the cornea causing watery painful eyes and blurred vision)
  • Lack of appetite
  • Fever
  • General malaise
  • Loss of pregnancy




This condition is caused by an infection with the feline herpesvirus 1 infection. It is common in multicat households or animal kennels due to overcrowding. Poor ventilation, poor sanitation, poor nutrition, or physical or psychological stress are other important risk factors for acquiring FHV-1.




You will need to give a detailed history of your cat’s health, along with the onset and nature of the symptoms. Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam to evaluate all body systems, and to evaluate the overall health of your cat. Routine tests include a complete blood count, biochemistry profile, and urinalysis. In some patients the complete blood count may reveal temporary low numbers of white blood cells (WBCs), termed as leukopenia, followed by an increase in the number of these cells, termed leukocytosis.


More advanced tests are available for the detection of FHV-1; your veterinarian can take samples of secretions from the nose and eyes of the cat to send to the laboratory for confirmation. Samples taken from the conjunctiva of the eye are stained to detect the intranuclear inclusion bodies -- the viruses that are present in the nucleus of the cells seen in some viral infections. X-rays are also helpful in determining changes in the nasal cavity, especially those due to chronic infections.


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