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Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

I adopted a five-month-old kitten back in February. His shelter “rap sheet” showed that he had battled a few colds, so I knew he came with this history — but he was too cute to resist. Since then, he has had some pretty crummy colds, but right now he’s battling a very bad eye infection. My vet gave me Terramycin, which I gave him for a week as instructed, and the eye seemed to slowly clear up. But as soon as his eye cleared up, he developed another cold. Three days ago I took him to the vet to get the Convenia injection, hoping that would help. But he’s not showing any sign of getting better; in fact, if anything, he’s gotten worse. His eye is swollen up again and watering very badly, the boogers are still coming out of his nose, and he’s even getting mucus next to his eye. It seems he does have feline herpesvirus. I know the flare-ups will come and go, but the eye problem has been going on for two weeks now, and the cold for one week. I do give him Lysine treats daily. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

~ Lauren

Siouxsie: Well, Lauren, let me be the first to say thank you for doing everything you can to help your poor baby feel better. It’s not easy being the caretaker of a cat who seems to be constantly fighting off infections, and we know your kitty is very grateful for your loving care.

Thomas: As your vet has probably told you, feline herpesvirus is a chronic infection that tends to flare up during stressful situations. And one of the most common complications of the herpesvirus is conjunctivitis, or inflammation of the lining of the eyelids.

Dahlia: Your vet prescribed the Terramycin, probably in the form of an ointment, in hopes of helping your cat to fight off any secondary bacterial infections that might have arisen from the viral conjunctivitis.

A vet tech administers eye ointment to a cat

Giving eye medication is tricky, but if done properly it can make a huge difference. Image courtesy of VideoJug.

Siouxsie: Eye ointments are not much fun to administer, but they have to be given in a way that ensures the medicine actually gets in, and stays in, the eye. The eye also has to be cleaned well before the ointment is given. We’ve found a video showing how to administer eye ointment –if nobody showed you how, take a look; you’ll find it helpful if you have to give your cat eye medication again.

Thomas: We’re a little confused as to why your vet chose to give your kitten a Convenia shot. Convenia is an antibiotic and it wouldn’t do anything to help cure a viral infection. According to what we read, it’s used mostly for skin infections, not eye infections. Mind you, we’re not vets, and we imagine your vet had a good reason for that treatment.

Dahlia: Anyway, back to the core of your question: What can you do to get your kitten healthy and keep him that way?

Siouxsie: First of all, you might want to find out for sure what is causing your cat’s ongoing upper respiratory infections. There are two primary viral culprits for URIs — herpesvirus and calicivirus. There is a lab test, the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test, that can determine which virus and/or bacteria is responsible for your cat’s health problems. Having that information will make it easier for your vet to give the right treatment to minimize his illness.

Thomas: You’re doing the right thing by giving your cat Lysine. The treats are good, that’s for sure, but Dr. Ron Hines suggests a daily lysine dose of 250 to 500 mg, sprinkled on canned cat food. He says he’d give the medicine until the end of the flare-up, but that many people give it long-term as a preventative and there’s no harm done from that. Lysine powder can be found at health food stores.

Dahlia: Chronic viral infections flare up when the immune system is weakened by stress or other factors. We suggest that you keep your cat’s immune system in top shape by feeding him the highest-quality diet you can afford. Grain-free canned cat foods are an excellent choice because they provide nutrition cats can use more effectively. There are also grain-free dry kibble products on the market; the kibbles are held together with sweet potato or tapioca rather than wheat, corn and the like.

Siouxsie: Keep your cat’s eye and nose clear of snot by gently cleaning with a damp cotton ball.

Thomas: You might want to look into using antiviral drugs to help your kitty fight off this current flare-up. According to The Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook, an antiviral drug called cidofovir has been found to be effective in treating cats with herpes conjunctivitis.

Dahlia: Some people have found that cats with chronic issues like herpesvirus can do well if treated with complementary medicine (e.g., homeopathy, acupuncture, nutritional counseling) in addition to standard veterinary medicine. If this is an option you’d like to explore, please let us know and we’ll point you to some helpful resources.

Siouxsie: Good luck, Lauren. We sure hope your sweet little guy is feeling better in no time!