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Cat Eye Herpes: How It Can Be Complicated

Updated on July 16, 2013
Fiona with Healthy Eyes
Fiona with Healthy Eyes | Source

How Fiona Came to Live With Me

I had a very difficult time getting a diagnosis and correct treatment for Fiona's cat eye herpes…….I am writing this article to help encourage people to be persistent and to gather enough information and get second opinions and try different treatments if they suspect their pet has cat eye herpes.

I was boarding two cats, Fiona and Max, for a young woman finishing college and waiting to get an apartment when she went to graduate school where she could have her cats. The cat Fiona and her adoptive brother, Max, were kept in a spacious but separate section of the house. That was because I was fostering stray cats and kittens and they can carry disease.

So Fiona and Timmy had the run of the back half of the house…they were sweet and easy cats and two years passed with my keeping a certain emotional distance ….the family paid every month and inquired about their well-being. But they were along ways away. During those first two years Fiona had an eye discharge once each year that lasted only a couple of days….I didn’t think much of it because it went away quickly. They had regular check -ups at the vet and her eyes always looked good.

According to the ASPCA, herpes is a viral infection that can be spread from eye discharge, nose discharge. Cats/kittens can be exposed to it and it is a latent infection and not infectious until there is an outbreak due to stress. A common symptom is upper respiratory infection. Fortunately Fiona never had this uncomfortable symptom.

When year three of the boarding started, the payments started getting later and the inquiries about the cats’ welfare less frequent. I emailed the family saying that I thought that unless things were getting sorted out soon I thought I should adopt the two cats. By that time the cats were getting older and deserved a permanent family. They were about 8 years old and 7 years old. The family agreed and so we opened up the house and Fiona and Timmy became part of the household. Timmy was accepted by everybody immediately …oh I had three cats of my own and had stopped fostering. But Fiona was timid and was picked on every once in a while. According to the ASPCA reducing stress is very important so having enough space for the cats to spread out was our goal. But all in all it seemed to be working out…and there was plenty of room for the cats to spread out and not get on each others’ nerves. My husband even built shelves, see photo. There will be a future hubpage on how to build these shelves.

Fiona and Max on New Shelves
Fiona and Max on New Shelves | Source

The Beginning of Eye Problems

Timing can always be ironic. Almost as soon as Fiona became my full responsibility she began having constant eye discharge and then squinting bad in one eye. I looked and her inner most eye lids (the ones that close sideways) were pink and looked sore. It wasn’t for a while into my quest for help that both eyes became diseased.

At the vets we tried simple eye treatment for conjunctivitis. But the eye didn’t clear up. And then he tried something stronger for infection – a steroid and it didn’t clear up. So we did the eye test for herpes and sent it off to the lab in the city. It came back negative and the vet said this was a conclusive test….not like some tests that have to be repeated twice…..but conclusive. Fiona did not have eye herpes. He put her back on steroid drops and nothing improved.

Cat with Eye Discharge Like Fiona's
Cat with Eye Discharge Like Fiona's | Source

Finding Expert Opinions on Cat Eye Herpes

Oh did I mention I was broke at the time and could not go to a veterinary ophthalmologist in the city. Fortunately I had some connections in the veterinary world. First I consulted a high school classmate, who oddly enough, happened to be an animal ophthalmologist and professor. She wrote a very long e- mail pointing out five things that the eye problem could be. That pretty much narrowed it down to cat eye herpes. But I had a friend whose daughter-in law was an experienced vet, and she agreed to answer my questions. Again it seemed to narrow it down to cat eye herpes. All of this was getting worrisome because the more I knew the more urgent it became to get effective eye treatment or have Fiona lose her sight or possibly an eye. Finally I switched vets…..and he said, regardless of the test, there was nothing else it could be…all the symptoms pointed to cat eye herpes. So now I had the opinion of a specialist and two other vets plus what I had read online.

Now the problem became treatment. Nothing the new vet prescribed helped. And Fiona was suffering and I didn’t want to put her down. And I wanted to avoid the disease progressing like this photo shows.

Eye herpes progressed
Eye herpes progressed | Source


Thank goodness Fiona's eyes never got that bad. She had discharge from both eyes and was squinting both eyes. It was time to try one more connection. My neighbor who is a doctor, had a brother in Ohio who was a vet. I got permission to call and consult with him. He had a clear regimen that had worked for cats he had treated for feline eye herpes and wrote a prescription for me to get the meds at his price. The eye drops he prescribed were Idoxuridine and it took a month of following the regimen to get her eyes totally clear. A year later she had a flare up and had to start over but it cleared up even sooner this time.

Other Recommendations: Cat Eye Herpes

All along we were following other recommedations for alleviating a cat eye herpes. All this time we were trying to figure out ways to reduce her stress because that can cause flare ups. We feed her separately up high from the other cats. My husband built shelves to give the cats more space to spread out and be apart. Also from the very first vet visit we have given her L-lysine treats to bolster her immune system.


We did not separate Fiona from the other household pets because she loves to sit with us on the couch. None of the other cats has contracted herpes during these years but I do wash my hands after petting Fiona’s head. I also would never bring young kittens with their undeveloped immune system near her.

There are several reasons my other cats did not get Fiona's cat eye herpes. One, it is only contagious during an outbreak. Second, Fiona does not cuddle with other cats and share grooming. Thirdly all my cats are healthy, stress free, and have strong immune systems.

Lydia Likes Being With Us

Fiona and Dad
Fiona and Dad | Source

Footnote 2

Another foot note: All the vets tried very hard to help Fiona. Like I said in the beginning: it was complicated. Also my cat's real name wasn't used to protect her privacy. Please see my article about another difficult cat disease

Happy Ending

Fiona with Healthy Eyes
Fiona with Healthy Eyes | Source

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