ISSN 2398-2950      

Feline gamma herpesvirus


Synonym(s): Felis catus gammaherpesvirus 1 (FcaGHV1), (Bovine herpesvirus-4 is another gammaherpesvirus which can infect cats)




  • Order: Herpesvirales 
  • Family: Herpesviridae 
  • Subfamilies: Gammaherpesvirinae and Alphaherpesvirinae 
  • Genus: Varicellovirus 

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Clinical Effects


Transmission of FcaGHV1 

  • Since herpes viruses are fragile, indirect transmission is probably not a major source of infection other than in densely crowded situations. 
  • High virus loads found in the intestine. 
  • Horizontal transmission likely. 
  • Samples positive for DNA from any of three hemoplasma species had 19 times greater odds for testing positive for FcaGHV1 than hemoplasma negative cats, suggesting possible co-transmission (McLuckie et al, 2016; Novacco et al, 2019). 
  • Prevalence is similar to that of FIV Feline immunodeficiency virus, ie higher in older male cats. 

Transmission of Bovine Herpesvirus 

  • Route of transmission unknown, but laboratory infected cats shed virus in their urine for at least 90 days (Kruger et al, 1990). 
  • More prevalent in males than females raising possibility that it may be transmitted by biting. 
  • In one study 38% of seropositive cats were viremic, therefore iatrogenic transmission by blood transfusion is a possible risk. 
  • Seroprevalence and viremia were higher in impounded cats in one study compared with free-roaming cats, raising possibility that, as in cows, short distance aerosol transmission in catteries may be possible. 

Pathological effects

Pathological effects of FcaGHV1 

  • FcaGHV1 infection is common, but rarely causes disease. 
  • FcaGHV1 PCR-positive cats are 2.8 times more likely to be ill than healthy, but it is unknown whether FcaGHV1 is the cause of the illness, or whether the illness had reactivated latent herpes virus. 
  • In a Swiss study, five of seven FcaGHV1-positive cats had cardiorespiratory signs and three of those cats had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. 
  • FcaGHV1 DNA can be detected in multiple tissues from infected cats, including heart tissue (but more frequently found in intestine with higher viral loads). 
  • Oncogenesis occurs in a minority of gammaherpesvirus infections, often many years after the primary infection.  
  • Predisposing factors, such as immunodeficiency, are thought to be required for lymphoma to develop.   
  • However, two studies found no evidence of FcaGHV1 infection in 122 and 17 lymphoma cases. 
  • Antibodies can be found in FcaGHV1-infected cats; therefore an antibody titer does not equate with immunity but rather is likely an indicator of latent infection. 

Pathological effects of BHV4 

  • Laboratory infections of bovine herpesvirus 4 (BHV4) infections in conventionally reared or specific-pathogen-free cats resulted in microscopic hematuria, and mild focal lymphoid cystitis (Kruger et al, 1990).   
  • BHV4-neutralizing antibodies were not detected in any serum sample obtained from cats with feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) or from control cats. In contrast, BHV-4 antibodies were detected by an indirect immunofluorescent antibody (IFA) test in sera obtained from 31% (44/141) of cats with FLUTD and 23% (6/26) of control cats. The prevalence of positive BHV-4 IFA test results in affected cats was not significantly different from that observed in control cats (Kruger et al, 1991). 
  • However, there have been no reports of BHV4 detection in cases of FLUTD since the 1990s, although a recent study detected feline herpesvirus DNA in one urine sample from 102 cats with FLUTD (Lund et al, 2012): those authors did not test for BHV-4 in the urine samples. 


  • Since there is nothing published about the control of FcaGHV-1 or BHV-4, the following is extrapolated from what is known of these viruses and of herpes viruses in general. 

Control via chemotherapies

  • Feline interferon omega (Virbagen Omega) Interferon has broad-spectrum anti-viral activity and may be useful in FcaGHV-1 or BHV-4 infection. 
  • L-lysine (used in human herpesvirus infection to antagonize arginine, which is necessary for formation of the herpesvirus capsid protein) is contraindicated in the cat because arginine is an essential amino acid in the cat, and reduction of plasma arginine is detrimental to immune function and severe deficiency can induce hepatic encephalopathy or even death (Morris & Rogers, 1978). 
  • Famciclovir is a guanosine analogue anti-viral which is the drug of choice for feline herpesvirus-1 infection: whether it would be a useful adjunct in treating hypertrophic cardiomyopathy or FcaGHV1-positive lymphoma (along with conventional lymphoma chemotherapy) has not been tested. 
Acyclovir Acyclovir, used for herpes simplex in man, is not recommended: it is toxic to cats if given systemically. 

Control via environment

  • Aggressive interactions and vector-borne transmission are suspected so tick and flea control may reduce FcaGHV1 transmission. 
  • Disinfectant: most detergents or bleach diluted 1:32 in water with washing-up liquid will kill herpes viruses. 
  • All known herpes viruses have the capacity to latently infect their hosts and recrudesce following stress, therefore reduction of environmental stress is recommended, especially in multicat environments such as breeding and boarding catteries and rescue shelters.  
  • Feline pheromone diffusers (Feliway) Pheromone analogue therapyNepeta cataria (catnip) and environmental enrichment can all help to reduce feline stress. 
  • Rescue shelters should strive to have natural, or positive pressure, ventilation to reduce aerosol transmission of aerosol-borne viruses. 


  • It is unknown if FHV-1 vaccines would confer any cross-protection against gammaherpesviruses. 

Other countermeasures

  • FcaGHV1 is more prevalent in entire male cats over 3 years of age, therefore neutering may reduce risk of infection. 
  • Since both gammaherpesviruses have been found in the blood, avoid iatrogenic transmission by avoiding blood transfusions  Blood transfusion where possible. 
  • The effect of regular flea treatment for prevention of FcaGHV1 infection has not been assessed, but presumably would be beneficial. 
  • Avoid iatrogenic latent herpesvirus recrudescence by minimizing use of immunosuppressive drugs such as glucocorticoids, cyclosporine, and oestrous suppressants where possible.  
  • Optimize nutrition to support the immune system by ensuring adequate arginine levels. 
  • Since FcaGHV1 is found more often in cats immunosuppressed by concurrent infection with feline leukemia virus (FeLV) Feline leukemia virus or feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), it is reasonable to speculate that steps taken to avoid those infections might decrease susceptibility to FcaGHV1. 
  • Presumably cats that do not have access to cattle or cow products are at less risk for BHV4 infection. 


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Further Reading


Refereed Papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource . 
  • Hendrikse L D, Kambli A, Kayko C, Canuti M, Rodrigues B, Stevens B, Vashon J, Lang AS, Needle D B, Troyer R M (2019) Identification of a Novel Gammaherpesvirus in Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis). Viruses 11(4) pii: E363. doi: 10.3390/v11040363 PubMed.  
  • Novacco M, Kohan N R, Stirn M, Meli M L, Díaz-Sánchez A A, Boretti  FS, Hofmann-Lehmann R (2019) Prevalence, Geographic Distribution, Risk Factors and Co-Infections of Feline Gammaherpesvirus Infections in Domestic Cats in Switzerland. Viruses 11(8), pii: E721. doi: 10.3390/v11080721 PubMed.  
  • Aghazadeh M, Shi M, Pesavento P A, Durham A C, Polley T, Donahoe S L, Troyer R M, Barrs V R, Holmes E C, Beatty J A (2018) Transcriptome Analysis and In Situ Hybridization for FcaGHV1 in Feline Lymphoma. Viruses 10(9) PubMed
  • Makundi I, Koshida Y, Endo Y, Nishigaki K (2018) Identification of Felis catus Gammaherpesvirus 1 in Tsushima Leopard Cats (Prionailurus bengalensis euptilurus) on Tsushima Island, Japan. Viruses 10(7),  pii: E378 PubMed.  
  • Marenzoni M L, Antognoni M T, Baldelli F, Miglio A, Stefanetti V, Desario C, Di Summa A, Buonavoglia C, Decaro N (2018) Detection of parvovirus and herpesvirus DNA in the blood of feline and canine blood donors. Vet Microbiol 224, 66-69. doi: 10.1016/j.vetmic.2018.08.030 PubMed
  • McLuckie A J, Barrs V R, Lindsay S, Aghazadeh M, Sangster C, Beatty J A (2018) Molecular Diagnosis of Felis catus Gammaherpesvirus 1 (FcaGHV1) Infection in Cats of Known Retrovirus Status with and without Lymphoma. Viruses 10(3) PubMed.   
  • Chiu E, Troyer R M, Lappin M R, VandeWoude S (2017) Bovine herpesvirus 4 DNA is not detected in free-ranging domestic cats from California, Colorado or Florida.J Feline Med Surg 19(2), 235-239. doi:10.1177/1098612X15607586 PubMed.  
  • McLuckie A J, Barrs V R, Wilson B, Westman M E, Beatty J A (2017) Felis Catus Gammaherpesvirus 1 DNAemia in Whole Blood from Therapeutically Immunosuppressed or Retrovirus-Infected Cats. Vet Sci 14, 4(1) PubMed
  • McLuckie A J, Barrs V R, Smith A L, Beatty J A (2016) Detection of Felis catus gammaherpesvirus 1 (FcaGHV1) in peripheral blood B- and T-lymphocytes in asymptomatic, naturally-infected domestic cats. Virology 497, 211-216 PubMed
  • McLuckie A, Tasker S, Dhand N K, Spencer S, Beatty J A (2016) High prevalence of Felis catus gammaherpesvirus 1 infection in haemoplasma-infected cats supports co-transmission. Vet J 214, 117-21 PubMed
  • Stutzman-Rodriguez K, Rovnak J, VandeWoude S, Troyer R M (2016) Domestic cats seropositive for Felis catus gammaherpesvirus are often qPCR negative. Virology 498, 23-30 PubMed.  
  • Addie D D, Boucraut-Baralon C, Egberink H, Frymus T, Gruffydd-Jones T, Hartmann K, Horzinek M C, Hosie M J, Lloret A, Lutz H, Marsilio F, Pennisi M G, Radford A D, Thiry E, Truyen U, Möstl K; European Advisory Board on Cat Diseases(2015) Disinfectant choices in veterinary practices, shelters and households: ABCD guidelines on safe and effective disinfection for feline environments. J Feline Med Surg 17(7), 594-605 PubMed
  • Lund H S, Rimstad E, Eggertsdóttir A V (2012) Prevalence of viral infections in Norwegian cats with and without feline lower urinary tract disease. J Feline Med Surg 14(12), 895-9. doi: 10.1177/1098612X12459644 PubMed.  
  • ​Thiry E, Addie D, Belák S, Boucraut-Baralon C, Egberink H, Frymus T, Gruffydd-Jones T, Hartmann K, Hosie M J, Lloret A, Lutz H, Marsilio F, Pennisi M G, Radford A D, Truyen U, Horzinek M C (2009)  Feline herpesvirus infection. ABCD guidelines on prevention and management. J Feline Med Surg 11(7), 547-555 PubMed.   
  • Malik R, Lessels N S, Webb S, Meek M, Graham P G, Vitale C, Norris J M, Power H (2009) Treatment of feline herpesvirus-1 associated disease in cats with famciclovir and related drugs. J Feline Med Surg 11(1), 40-48 PubMed
  • Kruger J M, Venta P J, Swenson C L, Syring R, Gibbons-Burgener S N, Richter M, Maes R K (2000) Prevalence of bovine herpesvirus-4 infection in cats in Central Michigan. J Vet Intern Med 14(6), 593-597 PubMed.   
  • Kruger J M, Osborne C A, Goyal S M, Wickstrom S L, Johnston G R, Fletcher T F, Brown P A (1991) Clinical evaluation of cats with lower urinary tract disease. J Am Vet Med Assoc 199(2), 211-216 PubMed.  
  • Kruger J M, Osborne C A, Goyal S M, Pomeroy K A, O'Brien T D (1990) Clinicopathologic and pathologic findings of herpesvirus-induced urinary tract infection in conventionally reared cats. Am J Vet Res 51, 1649-1655 PubMed
  • Kruger J M, Osborne C A, Goyal S M, O'Brien T D, Pomeroy K A, Semlak R A (1990) Clinicopathologic analysis of herpesvirus-induced urinary tract infection in specific-pathogen-free cats given methylprednisolone. Am J Vet Res 51, 878-885 PubMed.  
  • Thiry E, Chappuis G, Bublot M, Van Bressem M F, Dubuisson J, Pastoret P P (1991) Failure to infect cats with bovine herpesvirus type-4 strain Movar 33/63. Vet Rec 128(26), 614-615 PubMed.   
  • ​Kruger J M, Osborne C A, Whetstone C A, Goyal S M, Semlak R A (1989) Genetic and serologic analysis of feline cell-associated herpesvirus-induced infection of the urinary tract in conventionally reared cats. Am J Vet Res 50(12), 2023-2027 PubMed.  
  • Kit S, Kit M, Ichimura H, Crandell R, McConnell S (1986) Induction of thymidine kinase activity by viruses with group B DNA genomes: bovine cytomegalovirus (bovine herpesvirus 4). Virus Res 4(2),197-212 PubMed
  • Morris J G, Rogers Q R (1978) Arginine: an essential amino acid for the cat. J Nutr 108(12), 1944-1953 PubMed
  • ​Fabricant C G (1977) Herpesvirus-induced urolithiasis in specific-pathogen-free male cats. Am J Vet Res 38,1837-1842 PubMed.   

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