Last Updated on July 8, 2021 by Jenny
Originally published Jun 20, 2012
Thank you to Dr. Jean for taking the time to talk to Floppycats about cat conjunctivitis and cat herpes.
Learn more about cat health by reading Dr. Jean’s book, The Complete Guide to Holistic Cat Care: An Illustrated Handbook.
Dr. Jean also covers Feline Conjunctivitis on her site as well.
You can listen to the podcast of Cat Conjunctivitis and Cat Herpes with Dr Jean Hofve (click here) or you can read the interview below.
We’ve now done several interviews with Dr. Jean, feel free to check any of them out:
- Cat Allergies with Dr. Jean
- Obesity in Cats with Dr. Jean Hofve, DVM
- Kidney Disease in Cats with Dr. Jean Hofve, DVM
- Cat Conjunctivitis and Cat Herpes with Dr. Jean Hofve
Interview with Dr. Jean Hofve about Cat Conjunctivitis and Cat Herpes:
Jenny: Yes, so today is Cinco de Mayo or May 5th. We’re talking with Dr. Jean Hofve about conjunctivitis and cats. Thanks for doing this again, Dr. Jean.
Dr. Jean: It’s my pleasure.
Jenny: What is conjunctivitis?
Dr. Jean: Conjunctivitis simply means inflammation of the conjunctiva which is kinda the lining tissues, the mucous membrane that covers the inside of the eyelid and the surface of the eye.
Jenny: In our communication through email before we set up this interview, you had mentioned to me that there are a number of cats that have conjunctivitis nowadays that didn’t have it before.
Dr. Jean: No, not exactly. Pretty much all cats have it.
Jenny: For some reason, I was under the impression that it’s more prevalent nowadays, it’s not?
Dr. Jean: No. All cats are exposed to it as kittens its, so common. It’s just one of those infections that is kinda around and pretty much being born guarantees that you’ll be exposed to it. Now, the thing that we have to separate out is, how many cats are symptomatic? That number is going up.
Jenny: Is that where herpes comes in?
Dr. Jean: Well, most conjunctivitis is caused by a herpes virus, rarely by other viruses. Colossi virus is one. There can be a lot of causes of conjunctivitis but the herpes is the most common one. Other things that could be causing it though include congenital defects, such as the person faces where the tear ducts are not formed well or they’re absent, scarring from injury.
There’s a number of things but I used to send all the cases that didn’t respond to initial therapy to my veterinary ophthalmologist down here in Denver. I kept getting reports back herpes virus, herpes virus, herpes virus. I ran into Dr. Matt Chavkin, Veterinary Referral Center of Colorado at a luncheon and I said, “Geez, Matt, all they all coming back as herpes? And he said, “Yea, pretty much all”. It’s pretty unusual to see other causes and herpes is almost always complicating it even if there’s something else that started it. The other thing to note is that if cats weren’t exposed, we kind of give it to them when we give them Rinotraqueitis vaccine – Rinotraqueitis is it’s just another nicer name for herpes.
Jenny: What are some of the signs that your kitty has conjunctivitis?
Dr. Jean: Well often, you’ll just notice them squinting one eye. There may be any discharge and it can be any thickness or color. It can be watery. It can be goopy. It can be green. It could be clear. It could be yellow. It could be white. You may notice that eyes look puffy and swollen and red.
Not all cats will have all symptoms. Sometimes, they’re very subtle. The squinting one is a big one though because that shows pain. Squinting is a sign of pain. That’s definitely when you want to get on it.
Jenny: What do you do? What do you mean by getting on it? What are the options?
Dr. Jean: Well as you know, viruses are pretty much impossible to kill. Antiobiotics are not useful. They don’t help. Sometimes vets will prescribe antibiotic ointment for the eyes or some kind of tear solution. Generally, those also have a steroid in them to get the inflammation down which reduces the pain. It’s a very small amount of steroids but you have to remember that steroids suppress the immune system. You may be working it cross purposes by suppressing the immune system in the eye – you may actually make it worse. You wanna use steroids with caution. But, it cat is very uncomfortable, that’s certainly a valid thing to do.
There are a number of things. Let’s go back a little bit and talk about why so many cats have conjunctivitis. Why are so many cats symptomatic? I’ve looked into this over the years. It goes back a little bit to pet food. Over the years, cat food (and dog food of course) have been changing. It used to be in the early days of pet food that there was meat in them and a lot of meat and mostly meat in fact. But over the years, meat packers have gotten very, very good at skimming every last single molecule of meat off the bones. Now, what you get is lower quality – you know, chicken meal or by product meal or something of that nature.
It’s really not a good quality product and there’s less meat than ever. That’s why you lost and see secondary protein sources like corn gluten meal or other cheaper sources of protein, by product meals, meat and bone meals involved in meals in the food. Those have less meat. The key to this is that meat has a lot of lysine in it. Lysine seems to be protective or preventive of herpes viruses. It’s been known for many decades in humans. It’s been used as a treatment for kitties. Let me think for a second here. I’m getting wound up, Jenny.
The thing about corn and corn gluten meal as a protein substitute is that corn is low in lysine. Over the years, as more and more corn has been substituted for more and more meat, that’s where we start seeing problems. The kitties that were on low quality dry food are gonna be deficient in lysine. I think that this is a big reason why we see more and more symptomatic cats because there’s less and less lysine in the food and more and more opportunities for the virus to get a foothold and flare up.
Jenny: Isn’t one of the, I feel like I’ve been told that you can give lysine to your cats as a supplement. Is that one of the treatments for herpes?
Dr. Jean: It sure is. The dose of lysine for a cat with an active herpes flare up is a thousand milligrams a day one full gram. That’s a lot. The good part is you can get lysine at the health food store in capsules at 500-1000 milligram and you can just mix it with their wet food. It has a mild slightly salty taste. It’s very platable. Most cats don’t notice it.
For an active flare up, you give a thousand milligrams a day for five to seven days. Then, you can just routinely add lysine at about 250 milligrams a day as a supplement to prevent – to supplement that deficiency and prevent further flare ups. It’s very, very safe and it’s pretty darn effective.
Jenny: Yeah. For some reason, I think one of my readers has told me about that. This is why I love doing these interviews with you because now I understand why it’s lysine because it’s not in the meats.
Dr. Jean: Right. It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature. When we start feeding carnivores a corn based diet, this is just one of the many problems that will pop up.
Jenny: Yeah, that makes sense. Now, in your article on littlebigcat.com about Feline Conjunctivitis, you mentioned also that essences can be an important part of treating herpes flare ups.
Dr. Jean: Yes. Well, the key is stress reduction because these flare ups are very often caused by stress. We see a lot of this at certain times of the year like right after the Christmas holidays. We see a ton of cats coming in with this stuff because it’s been a stressful time. There’s been visitors. There’s been parties. People have been gone. People are coming. People are going. There’s a lot of activities and maybe there’s a tree standing in the middle of the living room.
Cats don’t like change. The holiday season is very, very stressful for them. That’s why I recommend flower essences. Spirit Essences actually has a Holiday Stress Stopper which is good after 4th of July is another one that can be used for because of fireworks and people running around. 4th of July is pretty stressful on cats.
Jenny: Yeah. I think it can be stressful on dogs too.
Dr. Jean: Oh yeah. A lot of dogs get totally freaked.
Dr. Jean: This can be used on dogs too.
Jenny: Yeah. My mom’s dog acts as if he’s in trouble during fireworks – it’s kind of sad.
Dr. Jean: They don’t know where it’s coming from and they take it very personally.
Jenny: Yeah. All I can picture is his little face like, “What did I do wrong”? It’s so sad.
Dr. Jean: I know. “Why are you yelling at me with these loud noises”. Poor little guy.
Jenny: I know. I sent you an email the other day about my mom’s cat Caymus who I see probably once every two weeks. I don’t see him very often. For some reason after I’m with him for a little bit, his eyes become super watery. He’s not squinting. It just looks like he’s been crying but there’s no red to them like there would be in human.
Dr. Jean: Does it go away after you leave?
Jenny: I don’t know because I said to my mom, “Does this happen”? She’s like, “You know Jenny, I don’t really look at his eyes all that often. I can pay attention to it but I don’t normally notice it”. Unfortunately, the last incident where it happened, she was leaving for the evening so she couldn’t keep an eye on him. But, we should keep an eye on him?
Dr. Jean: That would be interesting to know and you had asked about potential allergies.
Dr. Jean: Dogs and cats – we think of watery eyes and runny nose associated with hay fever and inhalant allergies. It’s very unusual for that to be a symptom in cats. Mostly, what you see with an allergy is gastro intestinal symptoms or skin symptoms. It’s pretty rare for an allergy to cause that particular symptom. It’s probably not that. I have two cats. I’ve only seen this in one other cat. I have probably seen ten or twelve thousand cats in my career. Their nose runs when they purr. It’s not that there’s discharge coming out of the nose. It’s actually the nose leather, the pink part that secretes water.
It maybe something like that – that’s happening to your mom’s cat. It’s just a pleasure thing. I mean, if the nose leather can run, I assume that the eyes can run. Some cats just have these idiosyncratic behaviors. There’s no particular reason for it. It’s not harmful. It’s just kind of more curiosity thing. But, it would be interesting to know if it only happens when you’re there and it goes away quickly when you’re gone. It’s probably one of those things, we’ll never know completely for sure what’s causing it. But, it probably is hurting the kitty.
Jenny: Well, I’m definitely adding it to my list of things to ask the animal communicator the next time I talk to her.
Dr. Jean: Oh yeah. Let me know what she says!
Jenny: I will. Do you think that talking about the nose leather and purring in association with, that maybe that could be a correlation with his watery eyes? Is that something that could happen later on in life? Because I don’t recall him ever doing this as a younger cat.
Dr. Jean: That’s a good question. I don’t think I notice that when they were kittens. But pretty young, I noticed it.
We talked about Willard Water. Willard Water is really interesting stuff. I’ve looked on their website. I have no idea what it is or what it does. But, I’ve added it to their water fountains because one of my cats has, Sundance, has flare ups.
As long as I put Willard Water in their water, he really is pretty good. He just has little eye boogies in the morning. Every morning, he comes in and has me pick his eye boogies out. I don’t notice it too much with the other cats. They don’t seem to have such problems. Sundance hasn’t had a real flare up in years because he’s been on the Willard Water constantly.
So that’s a really interesting product. You can get it from Vitacost.com, pretty cheap. You can get it at health food stores. Vitamin Cottage has it. It’s not that expensive. What I do is, I use an ounce in a gallon of water and then use that to refill their bowls with. So that they always shave a little bit. I don’t know what it does or why it works. It does work.
There’s also a homeopathic remedy from a company A E U R A, Aeura? I don’t know, I couldn’t tell you how to pronounce it. They produce homeopathic remedies for herpes in humans. I have seen this stuff absolutely work overnight miracles. One of my neighbors when I lived up in Jamestown at the second floor, it was three apartments, the next door apartment. Bill and I, we just leave our doors open all the time and our cats will run back and forth. That was a lot of fun for them. They got a lot of social interaction.
When he got two kittens, one of them had really, really severe conjunctivitis. He was miserable. His eyes were puffy and red. He had puff looking goop running down the side. It was really sad and he was obviously in a lot of pain. We put him on this stuff. It’s about fifty bucks bottle. I think you get a hundred tablets. You take one tablet and put it in a one ounce dropper full of water. You use a few drops of that in their food just once or twice a day.
So fifty pellets will last ya – I mean, I bought one bottle years ago – I’ve used it for client’s cats. I’ve used it for my cats. I still have a bunch left. It’s very cost effective and it’s really terrific. I haven’t ever seen anything that works as well.
When we started, Snickers on it, he cleared up immediately. It was just great until Bill ran out. It was a day before he came over to get more. Snickers overnight flared up horrible. It’s a palliative remedy. It’s not curing any thing but it’s palliating and it’s keeping poor little Snickers real comfortable.
Jenny: I haven’t been able to find that online. Can I send you an email? To see if you can find it?
Dr. Jean: Oh yeah. I haven’t looked for a long time. I figured, it was probably still there but I’ll check it out.
Jenny: Well, I could have spelled things wrong.
Dr. Jean: Yeah. It’s a funny word. It’s kind of coincidental because ailurophile is a name for cat lover. It’s the same root word. It’s the same first few letters. Anyways, I find that very coincidental although they do not advertise it for cats at all.
Jenny: You know, what’s interesting, I would think this might be correlated is one of my goals is to get more cats off of dry food. I highly encourage it anytime someone writes into me with a poopy butt problem. The readers of floppycats that have made the transition with their cats, one of the things that comes up often is that their cats don’t have any eye gookies in the morning. It makes me wonder if the canned food has more lysine in it because of the additional meat content?
Dr. Jean: Absolutely. It’s more natural when you’re putting – one thing over the years I learned is very true is, if I eat a lot of sugar, I will catch a cold. It’s when you eat sugar; it suppresses the immune system while corn and other grains convert to sugar in the body very quickly. A high carbohydrate dry diet is basically freedom on Twinkies. It produces a lot of sugar in the body and I think that’s a tremendous stress on the immune system.
When you calculate the protein content, it’s a good point to bring up because people don’t understand. They look at the dry food and it’ll say, “Thirty-four percent protein”. They’ll look at the canned food and it’ll say, “Ten percent protein”.
Obviously, the dry food has more protein right? Wrong. You have to calculate out the water. It’s a simple calculation. We can give people a link to it if we need to. But, what is important about that is, that canned food tends to be – even if they say ten percent protein – that is really about forty-five percent protein on a dry amount of basis. It’s much higher in protein. And the ingredients end up being a little bit better quality because it’s harder to disguise bad ingredients in canned food than it is in dry kibble. You don’t know what’s in it. You don’t know if there are 6 elephants, or German Shepherds or whatever.
I don’t like dry food for cats at all. Certainly when I travel, the cat sitters leave a little dry bit of dry food out. I don’t love it. When I get back, it takes a few days to re-establish their balance. Sundance usually has some of that issue. Today, he was fine. I’ve been back since Wednesday night. It just takes a couple of days to get him back on his normal diet.
One other thing that I have found that works pretty good for this for me and it’s actually working for the cats – it’s called redox signaling molecules and the process is called asea. You can actually use it directly in your eyes, which is what I do for myself. I have dry eyes. When that’s bad, I use it directly in my eyes. And I mix it with the cat’s food. I wasn’t having my cat sitters do that because it’s one more complicated step and when I make their food, it’s a big production. I don’t like to leave people with that much detail that they have to go through. They’re also doing better on that account.
Jenny: I understand what you’re saying. Sometimes I start adding up every thing I do in a day and think, “I can’t ask someone to do all this.”
Dr. Jean: It’s really hard when you have. I have four cats and they’re all older, so they all have little issues. What we do just out of habit, you know, you try to write it down so somebody can follow the steps that you take everyday. It’s like, “Holy cow, I can’t ask someone to do all that”. We do spoil them!
Jenny: Yes, we do. Last night on Floppycats Facebook, I posted that you and I are having this interview today and if anybody had any questions. And one of the ladies commented that she thinks that her Ragdoll has conjunctivitis or has had it a few times. She thinks it’s contagious in other cats. Is the contagious part more the herpes thing?
Dr. Jean: Yeah, but it’s not contagious in the conventional sense because it’s so contagious that they all have it so – it’s whether they have symptoms or not.
Jenny: Another question was to ask about feline herpes. If there are other solutions besides lysine, we’ve covered that with the Willard Water right?
Dr. Jean: Right and the homeopathic remedy and the redox signaling molecules. Nutrition of course, that’s the basis. If you’re not supporting the cat nutritionally, you’re gonna have problems. This is one of the obvious ones that surfaces quickly. People should take that as a hint to get their cats off dry food because they can’t heal when they’re getting that kind of food.
Jenny: I’m gonna read this other comment just to see if you have anything to expand on it. She said, “Conjunctivitis versus herpes flare ups, one of mine has a lot of flares manifesting in eye squinting and inflammation and watering/ gooping. She’s on a daily regiment of lysine and rarely has them anymore. If she does, it’s about seventy-five percent less severe.” So I think that covers what you already talked about but do you have anything to add?
Dr. Jean: Well once the cat has herpes, they have it for life. It’s a virus that lives on nerve endings. As long as you can keep it dormant, a healthy immune system will normally keep it under control. Conjunctivitis is just the Latin form for inflammation of the conjunctiva.
It’s a descriptive term. It isn’t the disease itself. A herpes virus flare up – the symptom is conjunctivitis. But, just the word conjunctivitis doesn’t imply anything about cause. For most cats, you can pretty much assume it’s herpes until proven otherwise.
Jenny: My mom asked about allergies but that’s because of Caymus.
Dr. Jean: Yeah, one of the things that you can do nutritionally of course is antioxidants. Because this is an inflammation, and antioxidants are really good at getting rid of inflammation.
Jenny: That’s good to know too. I don’t have anything else. I feel kind of silly cause it’s only thirty minutes. But if that’s what it is, that’s what it is.
Dr. Jean: Yeah, I think that pretty much covers it. It’s a very misunderstood thing. People tend to get quite when we accuse their cats of having herpes because it has very negative connotations in people. But cold sores are herpes virus. They don’t apply anything about your lifestyle. It does happen because those are the nerve endings that it lives on and it just happens to really like the eyeballs in cats.
Jenny: Yeah, I completely agree. I think Charlie and Trigg had I think an issue when they were kittens. I think we’re put on – well, the vet wasn’t sure if it was herpes, so she gave me some new like lysine chew for them to chew on.
Dr. Jean: We have some of those.
Jenny: Yeah. I was like, I was so offended that they would have herpes because I associated it with sexual disease.
Dr. Jean: Right. I mean, they have it when they’re kittens. I mean they have it before they’re ever grown up enough to have unprotected sex which- what are you going to do with those cats. They just won’t wear a condom! But, it doesn’t have any social connotations at all. It’s just something that kittens have at birth because their moms all have it and their grandmas all have it.
Like I said, and then we vaccinate them for it and it’s a modified live vaccine. We can be giving them something that could actually activate the virus. If it was up to me, I wouldn’t vaccinate them for it. The vaccine does not prevent the disease obviously. It only reduces the severity. It’s not really all that good at that either. I’m not sure other than the tradition why we’re still vaccinating kitties for the disease, because good nutrition and indoor enrichment for kitties and play therapy and all the other stress reducing activities and things that you can do to keep them from being bored or stressed. Kitties should have some interaction. They should have activities.
Normal cats – a cat in natural state is a hunter. They’re going out and getting their food. So, maybe treat filled toys, conquests for cats. They have what they call slim cat balls are pretty good. You can put little treats in there. You can put little Greenies or whatever you want in there. Then, the cat has to bat the ball around and work to get at food.
Although Spencer has learned to lay in one place and bat the ball from one paw. He’s the world’s laziest cat. All the things that we normally do for stress reduction, all the things that we normally do to keep the immune system healthy, you know, the best defense is a good immune system.
Jenny: Yeah, absolutely. Listening to you talk right now made me think of – if my cat doesn’t have herpes, giving them lysine wouldn’t hurt them, is that correct?
Dr. Jean: Correct.
Jenny: Is there any reason why you would go ahead and do that? If they didn’t?
Dr. Jean: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It’s gonna be an added step for you in preparing their food ad an added expense. You know, if you don’t mind that and you wanna really prevent it – but if you’re doing other things right, your cats should not have a problem with herpes. Most cats do not. When they do, it tends to be crying and very difficult to get it under control. But, it’s possible. Once you have it under control then the preventive measures we’ve talked about should really minimize any future outbreak.
But you don’t know, maybe your neighbor’s house is under construction or something – you know that’s stress, that noise, trucks and workmen, the stress is in the eye of the beholder really. If you cat thinks he’s stressed, he’s stressed. Stress is a big, big factor with these flare ups. You go off to work. You don’t know the fire engines were roaring up and down the street all afternoon. You don’t know.
I say that because my cats, actually I moved into a house in Englewood. It turned out that it was on a snow route. There were snow plows involved, it was also a major route for a police and fire. So when I was at work all day, I wondered why Puzzle was hiding in a closet. When I moved, I found out it was because it was a very stressful place for her because of all these unpredictable things that would happen on the street. When I finally quit my job and was home all the time, I noticed what it was. Oh see. Then, we move to the mountains. It was all good.
Jenny: I bet they liked that move too. I know that you mentioned you can buy lysine at the drug store. What do you think about the chews that I mentioned that my vet gave to me?
Dr. Jean: Oh well. Let me look at this. I think they have like 500 milligrams of lysine. It depends on how many milligrams you need to keep – There’s so many treats there.
Jenny: Are chews just an easier way for humans to deal with it?
Dr. Jean: Well, it could be. But chews don’t have the greatest ingredients either. Lot of times, they have sugar in them and preservatives. It’s just if you wanna be lazy, that’s fine. You don’t wanna open a can and sprinkle a capsule in it, then well your cat doesn’t have good odds of staying exceptionally healthy.
Having a cat is work. If you want them to be as healthy as they can be, that’s gonna require some effort on your part. If it’s too much work to sprinkle the cat food, it doesn’t work. I don’t know what to tell you. Treat are a way to keep cats comfortable but you’re never gonna regain health that way.
Jenny: Well and I feel like it’s an opportunity because I remember when she gave them to me, she said that you can only get it through your vet. I felt like it was a way to make money too.
Dr. Jean: The mark up on food and treats is so pathetic. I wouldn’t give a lot of credence to the money making theory. I think a lot of vets just wanna provide something simple dimple for people who don’t wanna be bothered. I think that’s more the issue is convenience than cost.
Jenny: Yeah, got you. Well, is there anything else?
Dr. Jean: Not that I can think of offhand.
Jenny: Well, thank you. I really appreciate it.
Dr. Jean: Yeah. I think we covered a lot actually.
Jenny: I do too.