Feline rhinotracheitis virus (feline herpesvirus type 1 or FHV-1) causes acute respiratory illness known as rhinotracheitis (or feline herpesvirus infection). The virus affects domestic and wild cats worldwide.
Rhinotracheitis is characterized by respiratory symptoms such as sneezing, nasal discharge, rhinitis (inflammation of the nose), and conjunctivitis (inflammation of the membrane lining the eyelid). It also affects the reproductive tract and can cause complications during pregnancy.
Rhinotracheitis is part of the feline upper respiratory infection complex, which is a group of viral and bacterial infections (e.g., calicivirus, chlamydiosis) that cause sneezing and discharge from the eyes and nose. Cats often have two or more of these upper respiratory infections at the same time, and FHV-1 is one of the most common.
FHV-1 occurs worldwide. Cats of all ages and breeds are susceptible, although it is more common in the following:
- Kittens, especially those born to infected mothers
- Multicat households, catteries, and pet adoption shelters, especially those with:
- Physical (e.g., temperature) or psychological (e.g., introduction of a new cat) stressors
- Poor nutrition
- Poor sanitation
- Poor ventilation
- Pregnant cats that are lactating
- Sick cats (especially sickness associated with a weakened immune system or other respiratory infection)
- Unvaccinated cats
FHV-1 is shed through the discharge from an infected cat's eyes, nose, and mouth. Contact with these secretions is a potential mode of transmission. The most common mode of transmission appears to be contact with contaminated objects
that an infected cat has touched or sneezed on including cages, food and water bowls, litter trays, pet owner's clothing, and the pet owner's hands.
FHV-1 can be transmitted by direct contact with an infected cat's mouth, nose, or eye discharge. Several days of close contact are necessary for infection to occur.
Sneezing and coughing can spread the virus as far as 4 feet.
Many cats that are infected with FHV-1 never completely get rid of the virus. These cats are known as latent carriers. Even though they may not show symptoms, they harbor the virus in their nerve cells. Latent carriers spread the infection and are a major source of new infections.