Feline Conjunctivitis

Many cats have chronic problems with conjunctivitis (inflammation of the eye membranes). Often, the problem comes and goes. The eyes may be red, swollen, watery, crusty, or goopy.

Causes include infection, congenital defects (small or absent tear ducts), facial conformation (Persian features), and scarring from previous infections. Unlike humans, allergies are almost never involved. However, the most common cause of conjunctivitis in cats is viral infection, usually with a Herpes virus.

In cats, Herpes is an upper respiratory virus (not an STD); it’s also called “rhinotracheitis” and is one of the components of the combination upper respiratory/panleukopenia (feline distemper) vaccine for kittens. The vaccine does not actually prevent Herpes infection; its main function is to reduce the severity of the disease.

Herpes is painful, and usually causes quite a bit of redness and a watery discharge. It often attacks only one eye, producing a lopsided squint. Affected cats tend to be photophobic; that is, they squint against bright light, or try to avoid it altogether.

Nearly all cats are exposed to the Herpes virus as kittens. For most cats, no further problems occur. However, Herpes is a sneaky virus, and likes to lie dormant until it gets a chance to get one up on the immune system. Because stress suppresses the immune system, cats under stress are particularly susceptible to recurrent Herpes flare-ups.

Diet is also a factor in feline Herpes. Corn is deficient in the amino acid lysine; as dry foods have, over the years, replaced meat with corn gluten meal and other poor quality ingredients, Herpes flares have become more common. Dry food is not good for cats for many reasons; this is just one more. Cats need a high protein, high moisture diet such as canned, homemade, or raw food. Long-term nutritional support with antioxidants, BioSuperfood, and other immune boosting supplements will also help prevent recurrences.

Antibiotics are ineffective against viruses, so conventional medicine doesn’t have a good treatment for Herpes. Nevertheless most veterinarians use topical eye drops or eye ointment containing antibiotics as a treatment. Steroids may also be included in such topical products; they will reduce pain and inflammation, although there is a risk that the immune suppressing effects of steroids will actually inhibit healing.

There are several holistic treatment options for Herpes. One of the simplest is l-lysine, which is inexpensive and readily available at the health food store or drug store. It comes in capsules or tablets, usually 500 mg. Capsules are much easier to work with, if you can get them. (There is a liquid lysine supplement but the concentration is low and it contains  The dose is 500 mg twice a day for 5-7 days (total 1,000 mg/day). Lysine has a slightly salty taste, and is easily disguised by mixing with wet food or meat baby food. If that seems like a huge dose for a cat, it is–but that’s what it takes to work. Once the acute episode is under control, a maintenance dose of 250 mg per day can be given indefinitely.

To relieve irritation and wash viral particles from the eye, you can make a homemade saline solution. Use 1/4 teaspoon of table salt to 1 cup of water (room temperature). Three or four times a day, use a cotton ball to drizzle a small amount saline into the cat’s eyes. Make the saline fresh each and every time, because bacteria could grow in the solution between treatments.

Another surprisingly effective treatment is “Willard Water.” This is a catalyst that theoretically changes the molecular structure of water. It is usually available at health food stores. Follow the directions on the bottle to make up a gallon at a time. Use this as the only source of drinking water for your cat. The effects are not scientifically explainable, but they are usually immediate–within a day or two–and dramatic.

Because herpes flare-ups are commonly stress-related, stress management is an important part of treatment. Flower essences such as Spirit Essences are designed for this type of support. Additionally, all cats benefit from Play Therapy and Indoor Enrichment.

If symptoms worsen, or persist more than a few days, a check by your veterinarian is warranted. Herpes can cause serious corneal ulcers that may result in loss of vision if untreated.

For more, click here to read Floppy Cats’ interview with Dr. Jean about conjunctivitis.



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12 comments for “Feline Conjunctivitis

  1. Jean Hofve DVM
    December 20, 2013 at 7:25 pm

    Because of the motor. Homeopathics shouldn’t be kept near anything that generates a strong electromagnetic field: fridge, microwave, etc.

  2. carolroars
    December 20, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    Hi Dr. Hofve,

    Why can’t you keep homeopathics in the refrigerator? I’ve always kept them in the fridge if they’re not made with some kind of alcohol to preserve them.

  3. Jean Hofve DVM
    November 3, 2013 at 10:53 am

    Yes, it should be okay…use 1/4 tsp sea salt to 1/2 cup water.

  4. Anne
    November 2, 2013 at 8:34 pm

    Hi! My cat (Charlie) hasn’t yet been tested for the Herpes virus, he was on antibiotic drops for 2 weeks 3 months before and again a few weeks ago because of a bad flare up. He was doing much better, however today I noticed his little eye is flaring up once more as soon as we came home from the vet (he had his first dental cleaning this morning) and so I have been reading about stress-related eye problems in cats and came upon this article.
    I am pretty certain he has the herpes virus and it’s just going to keep coming back to torture him (he scratches so hard he hurts his eyelids sometimes) so I am going to call the vet tomorrow because I wanna start him on the Lysine.
    My question is, I want to give him a rinse with the saline solution because it’s the only thing I have access to this moment (it’s 11:35pm) but I only have sea salt at hand. Is that ok? or does it have to be regular table salt?
    Thank you for the wonderful article! I hope I can find what’s the best method to providing my little guy with some long term relieve.

  5. jhofve77
    April 3, 2012 at 4:39 am

    You cannot keep homeopathics in the refrigerator. So it depends on weather, how clean you can keep it, etc. how fast it will spoil. I do NOT recommend skipping the vodka, if you decide to use it you are taking chances and I cannot help you. Beyond that you will have to discuss it with your veterinarian as you are asking for specific veterinary advice about your cat, which it is illegal for me to answer.

  6. linda
    April 2, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    Dear Dr Jean
    thank you for your reply I am so happy to be able to correpond with you. I need to know if I DO NOT USE THE VODKA how long can I keep the mixture in the fridge? I am aware it will spoil would it be ok to use for one week how long can i use it before mixing a new batch ??

    Second thing is it safe to mix vodka I am worried its toxic for cats??
    I think your article is wonderful and I really want to try this mixture my cat is a persian 6 pounds 1yrs old and suffers cronic squinting. The vet has me using Madidex 0.1%, I use it 3 twice per week and use genteal drops everyday. Its hard for this poor cat lots of vet visits and I would love to supress the Conjunctivitis he was born with this problem.

  7. jhofve77
    March 27, 2012 at 8:53 am

    You can use plain water. However be aware that it will spoil and get moldy very fast without the preservative.

  8. linda
    March 26, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    I want to use this you wrote about this herpes formula for human that works great for cats
    My cat weighs 6 pounds plesae advise how to mix this without the vodka
    There is a human homeopathic formula that works very well, and very quickly, for cats. It’s called “The Herpes Formula” by Aeura. Dissolve one tablet in a 1-ounce dropper bottle filled with a mixture of 80% water and 20% vodka (as a preservative), shake well, and give about half a dropperful by mouth once or twice a day. (Do NOT put it in the eyes!) If you make up a 1-ounce batch, it will last several weeks. It may seem a bit expensive up front, but one bottle of The Herpes Formula will provide years of treatment.

  9. jhofve77
    August 22, 2011 at 6:13 am

    Clearing the tear ducts is a surgical procedure that is best performed by a veterinary ophthalmologist, or at the least, a vet with specific experience in that sort of thing.

  10. concerned
    August 21, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    My kitten has very runny eyes (clear that later stain brown), no other signs of infection like conjuctivitis or green discharge. The vet tested it with some dye and no dye showed up at the nose which means he either has no tear ducts or they are blocked. He sneezes randomly about once twice a day, doesn’t have nasal discharge. Could this be the herpes virus? How can i unblock the tear ducts, I dont want him to have it running his entire life

  11. Tasha's Mom
    February 24, 2011 at 9:22 am

    I give my cats 250 mg of L-lysine every day~ I swear by it!!

  12. Claudia Millán
    January 28, 2011 at 11:59 am


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