Dear Dr. Amy,
I heard from a friend that cats can get a herpes virus that affects their eyes and causes ulcers. Is this true? Is it contagious to dogs or people?
Yes, cats can get a herpes virus that can cause conjunctivitis (redness and irritation of the tissues surrounding the eye) and can lead to ulcers (a crater in the cornea that is very painful and irritating). If severe enough, kittens can even lose their eye sight due to a full thickness ulcer requiring surgical removal of the eye.
The majority of the cat population tests positive for antibodies due to widespread exposure (greater than 95 percent), the variation in severity lies in the level of health, stress, environment, immune system, and level of detection when exposed. Some cats never develop signs, and others overcome a battle as a kitten, but still have reoccurring symptoms during times of stress. It is not contagious to people or dogs, it is a feline specific strain.
If a cat is diagnosed with a reoccurring form, daily oral supplement of lysine (an amino acid) has been shown to slow the replication of the virus and reduce the frequency and severity of outbreaks. If a young kitten is seen squinting, having excessive tearing from one or both eyes, painfulness to light, or cloudiness of the surface of the eye, an appointment to a vet should be scheduled immediately. A simple test called a fluoroscein stain can be performed to visualize an ulcer, and aggressive topical therapy or even occasional systemic anti-viral meds can be initiated to save the eye as well as pain medications if an ulcer is present.
Dear Dr. Amy,
Why do dogs get ear infections? Is it a local problem of their ear or a sign of other issues? My Westie has had problems all year since around the age of 9 months, and I don’t know what to do.
Great question, the answer is a possible yes to both. If a patient has an occasional issue, it is usually related to the environment of the ear itself, especially if it only happens in warmer/humid times of year and in a patient who loves to swim or gets frequent bathing. Yeast or bacteria thrive in a moist warm environment, especially in patients with floppy ears that reduce airflow and drying of the canal.
If a pet shows signs of redness, odor, or head shaking and scratching at an ear, an exam and ear cytology should be done. This is a simple test at the vet office where a cotton tip swab is used in the ear to collect a sample of any discharge, smeared on a slide and stained, and evaluated microscopically for yeast, bacteria, or ear mites. Based on the results, the vet can prescribe usually a topical combination product to reduce inflammation (usually a topical steroid) and active ingredients targeted at the type of infection present.
If the problem is reoccurring, I usually find an underlying cause that is affecting their immune system in general- seasonal/environmental allergies (atopy), low thyroid disease (middle-aged pets who have gained weight and have less energy), or a food allergy (common in younger dogs and certain breeds).
Knowing your pet is a Westie, food allergy would top my list. A running belief among vets exist that small, white dog breeds seem to be overrepresented among food allergies, and Westies are the top of the group. Symptoms begin young, around 6 months to 2 years, and often the first signs are repeat ear infections as well as anal glands problems or itchy rears.
Remember “ears and rears” are trademarks of food allergies in dogs. Occasionally, I have also diagnosed certain cats with food allergies too, especially Abyssinians, who develop not only ear infections but severe self-trauma to their face below the ears. A food trial may be a good consideration with a novel protein source, there are many good hypoallergenic prescription foods that can be chosen with your vet. By treating the source of the problem, the cycle of ear problems may be broken.
Dr. Amy Haase resides in Waxhaw and has nine years’ experience in small-animal general practice and emergency medicine. She is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society. She enjoys acting as a non-biased patient advocate for those with confidential questions about their pets or related to general medicine. E-mail your questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.