The feline herpes virus also attacks owners' sanity
October 23, 2012 9:42 AM   Subscribe

For months my one-eyed kitty has been battling flare-ups of the herpes virus in her remaining eye. We’ve been the vet countless times. She appears to have other issues including anxiety and possibly allergies. I’ve spent a small fortune, spent hours worrying, and most of all don’t want to be responsible for my cat going blind. Anyone else have experience with this?

I am sorry for the wall of text below. I wanted to include all details that might possibly be relevant to the issue.

The cat in question lost her left eye to the herpes virus when she was a small kitten (I adopted her after this). She grew up with another cat of mine, and they are best pals. When I moved in with my partner five years ago she had to adjust to his elderly, bitchy cat, and she seemed to do so well enough (though we still keep them apart when not at home, due to my cat attacking her once and biting a big hole in her neck).

Her eye was fine for many years—only flared up when she got vaccinated, which we’ve more or less stopped doing for this reason. She’s an indoor cat but I take her out on a leash several times a day, sometimes for hours on my day off, due to her being extremely high-strung and desperate to be outside. Obvs, I don’t want her to roam free while unvaccinated and with a missing eye.

Things tanked this spring when my partner and I adopted a fourth cat. This cat is about nine years old, calm, sweet, quiet, very friendly towards the other cats and not aggressive whatsoever. The other cats have been reluctant to accept him, the one-eyed kitty in particular. I keep him apart from her when we’re not at home. I am quite attached to him at this point and extremely reluctant to return him to the shelter. However, ever since adopting him my problem cat has been fighting flare ups of the virus in her remaining eye. I think we’ve hit critical mass in terms of cats in our household.

Since spring, her remaining eye has been seeping on a semi-regular basis. We took her to the vet and were prescribed various eye ointments. Things seemed ok, until we took a week vacation at the end of August (during which time I forked over a great deal of money to two different friends, to have them stop by and watch the cats in an effort to maintain their routine).

Since our return, her eye has been constantly infected, she is constantly pawing at it, we’ve been to four different vets, including an emergency vet and an ophthalmologic specialist. She’s had a corneal ulcer, been in the e-collar to keep her from pawing at it. She’s been on Cidofovir antiviral eye drops more or less constantly since then, and I’ve been giving her lysine religiously but it seems to make no difference. I’ve also been spraying the house daily with Feliway.

The other possible piece of this puzzle is that she may have allergies of some kind. She’s constantly scratching despite not having fleas, and seems to have stomach pain after eating. I’ve asked the vets about this and was told to keep her on a grain-free diet, which she had already been on for over two years. She eats canned gluten-free food (Evo brand, mostly, with some Fancy Feast mixed in). I did give her a few pieces of kibble per day as a treat, but have switched to grain-free kibble after these problems began.

I’m pretty lost as to what to do next, as what I’m doing obviously isn’t working. My theory is that she is overly stressed by her life situation—house full of cats, can only go outside on a leash (for the record, I trained her to do this as a small kitten and she was perfectly happy with this arrangement for years, but in the last year or so has seemed increasingly cranky and distressed with being on a leash). Or maybe it’s something about her diet. Or maybe I just suck and should quit my job and stay at home all day to keep her entertained.

My immediate plans are to buy some human-grade lysine after work tonight on the chance that it will work better than the stuff from the vet. I am also awaiting a call back from the ophthalmologist. In the meantime, I’m wondering if you’ve successfully treated chronic herpes virus in your cat, or any of the conditions described here. Should I ask my regular vet to put her on kitty Prozac? Another concern is that the constant shuttling to and from the vet is only increasing her stress (she’s been to the vet seven times in two months--on all of these occasions I've called the vet offices asking what to do, and they've urged me to bring her in).

GAH!!! Thank you, MeFi, for any advice you may have.
posted by indognito to Pets & Animals (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I can't give better advice than a vet, but I do have one data point to offer, which may or may not help.

Our cat has a herpes infection in one eye, although it is far less severe that your cat's. His eye was constantly weepy. But after we started crushing up half a pill of l-lysine (human grade) into his food every night, it went away and hasn't been back since.
posted by ignignokt at 9:54 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

It does seem like a likely possibility that the new cat added additional stress which is suppressing her immune system and leading to flareups.

The first thing I thought about when you mentioned her wanting to be outside (this is also a common reaction to stress, btw) is that she needs space and time away from the other cats.

One option if you have a yard is a dog run for her. They make dog runs with roofs, or you could twist tie chicken wire to the floor and roof of a standard dog run to make it secure for her to spend time in. It would allow her to spend hours outside, without being leashed and without risk of her getting lost/into trouble. Add a cat tower and some shade, and you'd have a perfect cat room.
posted by zug at 10:03 AM on October 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Before you try kitty prozac you might want to try Feliway to help with the stress. Some cats react well to it and it helps them feel calmer, some cats don't but it might be worth a try to help calm her. You can even get ones that clip onto carriers to help make trips to the vet less stressful.

I am wondering if some of your cats stress might be caused by a reduction in sight, it might causing it to overreact to the new cat and to be scared when going outside now. A cat room as previously suggested might be a good compromise, your cat can get to know the area so feel safe, but still get to be outside.

Just as a side note and I really do hope it doesn't happen but if your cat goes blind you'll be surprised how well they can manage. I had a cat go completely blind in old age, due to strokes he was 17 when it happened and he managed fine for the last 2 years of his life in a crazy busy house with regularly visiting toddlers, another cat who hated him and 2 dogs (plus 3 more dogs that visited regularly).
posted by wwax at 10:16 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Eek. Lots of different factors seem to be contributing to the situation you're describing. I'll get right to the point here and put suggestions/observations in list form:

(1) It is definitely possible for a four-cat household to operate relatively peacefully (provided none of the feline residents are of the "Only Cat" persuasion). I've got four kitties myself, and the thing that's helped enormously in terms of establishing and maintaining harmonious relations is providing enough territory.

Vertical territory and litterbox real estate are probably the most important aspects of this: I've got a tall vertical cat tree in my living room, plus a modified closet (no doors, a "catwalk" and beds up where the top shelf would normally be) in the computer room. I've also got 3 very large litterboxes, each in a different part of the house.

There are numerous very cheap and easy ways to provide vertical territory, and adding more litterboxes is as easy as adding more litterboxes (and I *highly* recommend having at least 3 boxes with 4 cats, especially when at least one of them has anxiety issues...even if they're not having accidents, more boxes can greatly reduce territorial stress).

(2) Regarding the weepy-eye thing: lysine certainly can't hurt; I'd definitely give that a try as planned. That said, if it does get to the point where your vet recommends removing her remaining eye, I'd be inclined to go ahead with that as it could be that part of the stress she's feeling now is due to pain. Cats do NOT react to "going blind" the way a lot of humans do, that is, with panic and general, they're confused for a while, but then they adjust and can go on to live perfectly happy lives. In other words, you're not going to do her any favors by the cat, blindness isn't a tragedy, it's just a thing, and not a terribly big deal thing for an indoor-only/leashed-outdoor cat.

(3) Have you tried doing reintroductions between the cats that don't get along? Most cat behavior experts recommend keeping new cats in their own space for the first few days regardless, and letting the other kitties sniff at him/her under the door, etc. Reintroduction is simply the process of separating one cat from the others and re-establishing contact slowly, in a controlled manner. And as others have noted, Feliway can sometimes be helpful, as could an expanded outdoor space area (search for "catio showcase" and prepare to be amazed by some of the awesome structures people have built along these lines!).
posted by aecorwin at 10:20 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Prozac may certainly be worth a try at this point.

Having an outdoor space for her is a good idea, but if you do go that route, please provide her an elevated place to hide out and feel safe. Put her buddy cat in there to give her some security, provided the other cat is comfortable there. Given that she had been content to wander on the leash prior, I'm wondering if she's fighting the leash now because she's anxious to escape and hide out.

Does she have a private space where the other cats absolutely can't go? Is her litter box completely separate? Is there a place to hide where she can feel completely invunerable, perhaps a closet with a box perched high? You might try a total isolation from the other cats with her furry buddy for companionship 24/7 to see if that helps.

Regards your paragraph on itching and feeding: is she still itching and having a tummy ache despite the gluten-free diet? If so, you need to pursue this and find something that doesn't make her sick.

Prozac, more space, and a change of diet may do the trick, but you may have to make an unpleasant decision. If her maxed-out stress symptoms are being caused or exacerbated by the fourth cat, you need to do something about it. If none of the above help, can you get one of your friends to take the fourth cat for a month and see if that makes a difference?

Sometimes we have to make difficult choices.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:25 AM on October 23, 2012

I'll second zug's thoughts. Unfortunately, it was probably a very bad idea to bring in a fourth cat.

From my own personal experience, when Mrs. slkinsey and I started dating she had two cats. One of the two cats, a grey tabby named Fiona, was constantly underweight, suffered from a variety of eating problems and allergies, and over-groomed so much that she had licked both sides down to stubble as far as she could reach which resulted in a kind of "cat-hawk" effect where the only part of her torso that had hair was a stripe running down her spine. Eventually, the other cat developed cancer and died. Mrs. slkinsey was worried that Fiona would be lonely, but the exact opposite happened and Fiona positively blossomed as an only cat. She is now borderline pudgy, covered with thick, soft fur and clearly much more relaxed and happy. This was not a coincidence.

So... what to do about this is a question. Like one-eye, our Fiona was also best pals with a cat she grew up with but appears to hate all other cats. It strikes me that one-eye is probably never going to be entirely happy having those other cats around. Even if one-eye and elderly-bitchy aren't in continual armed conflict, I wouldn't discount the extent to which one-eye is probably still highly unhappy at having elderly-bitchy around. The fact that you have to keep them separated in your absence is a sure indication that one-eye is stressed out by being around elderly-bitchy. This was, in retrospect, a very bad environment (from one-eye's perspective) into which to introduce a fourth cat. Most likely her stress was at the "barely tolerable" level with elderly-bitchy, and an additional cat was the straw that broke the camel's back. The solution is that you have to figure out a way for one-eye to get as much alone time away from elderly-bitchy and new-arrival as possible -- hopefully in an environment she will enjoy and where it won't seem like she's being punished or locked away. But I'm not sure, honestly, how much good this will do while you continue to have four cats in the house. One thing you might consider is farming out the new arrival to a friend for a month and see what difference that makes with one-eye. If things get better, well, you'll have some hard decisions to make.
posted by slkinsey at 10:34 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I give my cats lysine every day - 250mg. We cut a pill (human kind, from the cvs) in half and give it to them in a greenies pill pocket or give them 2 of these. Since we started giving them lysine every day, their chronic infections have been clear. 250 mg daily for maintenance, 500 for the initial flareup.
posted by 8dot3 at 11:06 AM on October 23, 2012

Thank you all for your answers. I'm gonna be a huge dork and just mark you all as favorites, because I truly appreciate everyone's input (and am feeling super-emotional about all of this right now).
posted by indognito at 12:18 PM on October 23, 2012

Have you treated the new cat? You say the cat is old and came from a shelter. It seems like there has to be something about the new cat causing the flare. I don't see mention of giving that cat any kind of treatment.
posted by Michele in California at 2:04 PM on October 23, 2012

Maybe Feliway plugins, so there's a constant low-level Feliway cloud in the air? Just make sure they're not near windows as the stuff will leak out with any drafts.

Could you cut out the Fancy Feast and just stick to EVO? Fancy Feast is about the level of Friskies, in that cats love the crap out of it but it's basically McDonald's. If your kitty is very sensitive that might be the issue.

Also, not sure what kind of EVO you're using but perhaps she is developing an allergy to one of the proteins in it. For example, the "Turkey and Chicken" EVO formula has turkey, chicken, and fish in it. So maybe find a high-quality, grain free food that is just turkey, just chicken, just fish, just beef, etc (EVO makes these, other good companies make them as well) to see if she gets better with any of them. Like people allergies you have to give it a few weeks before you see improvement though.

(this is all assuming New Cat is in good health, no kennel colds, FeLV, etc that it could be transmitting to Cyclops)
posted by schroedinger at 3:44 PM on October 23, 2012

Thank you Michele in California and schroedinger. As far as I know, the new cat is fine--at least, none of the vets I saw have ever mentioned that that might be part of the problem. I will make a point of asking them, though. And yeah, I kind of had the feeling that Fancy Feast was crap--I've ordered online some all-rabbit food that she used to eat without problems, before it disappeared off the shelves of our local pet store.

Thanks again everyone.
posted by indognito at 4:40 PM on October 23, 2012

I'm new, so I hope it's ok to point you towards another site for possible answers. has a lot of experienced people who have dealt with allergies, grain-free diets, and having a cat with herpes in the eye.

On that site I learned how you can make a private feeding box/sanctuary spot for any chipped cat by getting a chip-controlled cat door and building it into, for instance, an end-table styled dog-crate. I don't know if a spot as small as that would help your cat, or if you'd need to make a whole closet/room for her.
posted by Anwan at 8:20 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, thank you, Anwan. I'll have a look at that site.
posted by indognito at 3:56 PM on October 24, 2012

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