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Rhinotracheitis in Cats

Understanding Your Pet's Medical Diagnosis

What is rhinotracheitis in cats?

Rhinotracheitis is a common, sudden (acute), herpesvirus disease of cats. It is characterized by sneezing, inflammation of the nasal passages (rhinitis), fever, and eye infection. Inflammation of the windpipe or trachea (tracheitis) sometimes occurs. Rhinotracheitis means inflammation of the nose and windpipe (trachea).

What causes rhinotracheitis in cats?

Rhinotracheitis or feline rhinotracheitis (FVR) is caused by the feline herpesvirus type 1 (FHV-1). The virus enters the body in three ways: by ingestion, by inhalation via the nose, or by contact with the eyes. Mother cats (queens) can infect their kittens. The incidence of FHV-1 infection is high, especially in facilities and shelters with multiple cats. Risk factors include lack of vaccination against FHV-1, poor ventilation, and stress. Cats may be stressed by a number of conditions, such as physical conditions (example, overcrowding or cold) or psychological conditions (example, introduction of new cats into a household). Other infectious diseases can make the cat more susceptible to feline herpesvirus type 1 (FHV-1). Cats that have recovered from rhinotracheitis are carriers of the virus.

What are signs of rhinotracheitis in cats?

Signs of rhinotracheitis generally involve the upper respiratory system. Onset of disease usually is sudden (acute), with attacks (paroxysms) of sneezing. A clear, pus-containing (purulent), or blood-tinged discharge from the nose is seen. Coughing may occur. The eyes may be red with watery or pus-containing drainage; frequently, the cat will close its eyes. Some cats will develop characteristic corneal ulcers. The cat will eat poorly or not at all. Recurring upper respiratory infections in older cats are signs of feline herpesvirus type 1 (FHV-1) infection. Abortion also is a sign of infection.

How is rhinotracheitis diagnosed in cats?

Rhinotracheitis is diagnosed by a good history, a thorough physical examination, and laboratory analysis of nasal drainage and cells from the eyes or throat. Blood tests and urinalysis usually are not helpful in diagnosing this viral infection. Samples of nasal discharge and swabs or scrapings from the eyes or throat are taken to isolate the virus.

How is rhinotracheitis treated in cats?

Rhinotracheitis is a viral disease. It may be treated with antibiotics given by mouth or placed into the eyes to treat secondary bacterial infections. Nasal decongestant drops are administered to decrease nasal discharge. Antiviral eye ointments or drops may be indicated to treat or prevent corneal ulcers. Antiviral medications may be helpful, although they are not used routinely or needed. Routine vaccination will prevent development of severe disease, although vaccination will not prevent infection or shedding of the virus from an infected animal.

What is the prognosis for cats with rhinotracheitis?

The prognosis (outcome) for cats with rhinotracheitis generally is good. Rhinotracheitis usually runs its course in 7 to 10 days. Some cats may have only mild eye and nose discharges with sneezing for 1 to 2 days, while other cats may have disease for weeks. Death rates are very low except in young kittens. Possible complications are inflammation of the sinus cavities (sinusitis) of the face and chronic corneal ulcers.


Characteristics of Feline Rhinotracheitis Virus: