Many cats have chronic problems with conjunctivitis (inflammation of the eye membranes). Often, the problem comes and goes. One or both 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. However, the most common cause of conjunctivitis in cats is infection with a Herpes virus (but do not worry, your cat can not give it to you or your family!). In cats, Herpes is an upper respiratory virus; it's also called "rhinotracheitis" and is one of the components of the upper respiratory / panleukopenia (feline distemper) vaccine that is given to kittens. The vaccine does not actually prevent Herpes infection; its main function is to reduce the severity of the disease.
Virtually all cats are exposed to Herpesvirus as kittens. For most cats, no further problems occur. However, Herpes is a sneaky virus, and it 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. Herpes is irritating and painful, and usually causes quite a bit of redness, puffiness, and a watery discharge or brownish crusty matter at the corners of the eyes. It often attacks only one eye, producing a lopsided squint. Often the cat will squint against bright light, or try to avoid it altogether.
There are several holistic treatment options for Herpes. One of the simplest is l-lysine, an amino acid that is inexpensive and readily available at the health food store. It comes in capsules or tablets, usually 500 mg. Capsules are much easier to work with, if you can get them. The dose is 500 mg twice a day for 5 days (total 1,000 mg / day). Lysine has a slightly salty taste, and is easily disguised by mixing with canned cat food or baby food. That seems like a lot – 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.
There is a human homeopathic formula that works very well, and very quickly, for cats. Called's it "The Herpes Formula" by vBulletin® 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.
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. Or, add a few drops of the concentrate to your cat's wet food. 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, flower essences are an important part of treatment. Flower essences can provide emotional stability against stress and energetic support to the immune system.
Long-term nutritional support with antioxidants and other immune boosting supplements will also help prevent recurrences. Alternative treatment with homeopathy, herbs, or homotoxicology can also be very helpful.
If symptoms worsen, or persist more than a few days, have your cat checked by your veterinarian. Herpes can cause serious corneal ulcers that may result in loss of vision if untreated.