Dr. Sonnya: Supplement can prevent, mitigate feline herpes

Feline herpes cannot be cured, but there is an easy way to prevent it — or minimize its effects.

By Dr. Sonnya Crawford

Grays Harbor Veterinary Services

Feline herpes cannot be cured, but there is an easy way to prevent it — or minimize its effects.

The amino acid L-lysine is a common supplement for humans, cats and dogs alike. It is present in your cat’s body, but in fairly small quantities. It is completely safe and natural; and, when added to your cat’s food, it protects and defends against feline herpes infections, also known as feline viral rhinotracheitis.

Most cats become infected with feline herpes at some point in their lives. This virus causes classic upper respiratory infections in cats: sneezing, runny eyes and nose, conjunctivitis and respiratory difficulties. As is the case with other herpes infections (such as chickenpox in humans), once infected, the cat will carry the virus around for the rest of its life. During periods of stress, like changes in routine or having visitors over, the herpes virus flares up, causing your cat’s upper respiratory infection to become reactivated.

Herpes virus infections occur in the cat’s body when the virus particles attach to cells and then begin replicating. L-lysine works by preferentially binding to the circulating virus particles so that they can’t attach to the cat’s cells and, as a result, can’t replicate. Therefore, if L-lysine is present in high enough levels and your cat already has signs of an infection, the infection will resolve more quickly. If the cat isn’t showing signs yet, and is receiving L-lysine, it won’t be likely to break with an infection or the infection will be very mild.

It’s best to keep cats on L-lysine daily year-round. If they are having a current upper respiratory infection or you are anticipating a stressful event, a double dose is recommended. A stressful event can be something such as a visit to the vet, company coming over for the holidays, adding a new pet to the household, or having a beloved pet pass away.

L-lysine for cats can be purchased over the counter without a special prescription from your vet. It comes in many forms, including flavored powders, gels and chews. The suggested dosage can be found on the packaging.

If your cat is suffering from a pre-existing health condition, you should be careful when administering L-lysine or other supplements. It is possible for the supplement to interfere with other medications that you are currently giving. Be sure to discuss this with your veterinarian if your cat has pre-existing conditions.

Occasionally some cats suffer digestive upset from L-lysine, so if your kitty develops diarrhea or vomiting, discontinue this supplement.

Last, but not least, L-lysine cannot actually cure feline herpes. Once a cat contracts the virus, it will carry it for the rest of its lifetime, even if it never experiences any symptoms of the infection. L-lysine is a safe, natural treatment.

Sonnya Crawford, DVM, is a veterinarian at Grays Harbor Veterinary Services in Montesano. Her pets include two cats, numerous parrots, a giant bunny and saltwater fish. Her special interests are in avian medicine, veterinary dermatology and dentistry. Reach her at drsonnya@gmail.com.