Living with Herpes

Wait, what? Yup, you read that title correctly: LIVING WITH HERPES. Feline Herpes, that is.


Sneezing, watery eyes, runny nose, + congestion … kitty got a cold? Maybe, but if the symptoms are persistent and/or reoccurring – it could be feline herpes, also known as feline viral rhinopneumonitis (FVR), rhinotracheitis virus and/or feline herpesvirus type 1 (FHV-1). Feline herpes is one of the most common causes of upper respiratory infections in cats. And MANY (most???) cats are exposed to this virus at some point in their lives.

 The laundry list of symptoms:

  • Sneezing “attacks”
  • Discharge from the nose and eyes
  • Congestion
  • Squinting
  • Conjunctivitis or pink eye (inflammation of the eyelid)
  • Lesions in and around the eyes
  • Eye ulcers
  • Appetite loss
  • Fever
  • Depression
  • Drooling
  • Lethargy

The worse part? Kitties weakened by the virus may also develop secondary infections.

The herpes virus grows in nose, eyes, sinus, throat, mouth, and tonsils of a cat. This can cause inflammation and fever. Infections in the nasal discharge affect the sense of smell, causing the appetite to fade. Loss of appetite is scary in all cats, it is especially concerning in kittens where anorexia and dehydration can be life-threatening.

How do cats contract herpes?

The most common way for the virus to spread is through contact with discharge from an infected cat’s eyes, mouth or nose. Common activities like sharing litter boxes, food and water dishes with an infected cat can lead to the spread of the virus. An infected pregnant cat might pass the virus on to kittens in utero. Because the virus is highly contagious, it is common in catteries, shelters and multi-cat households.

Some cats who become infected with feline herpes are latent carriers. Even though they will never display symptoms, they can still pass the virus on to other cats. Stress can cause these carriers to “shed” the virus, exhibiting mild symptoms, which clear up on their own after a few days.

So, what does this mean for you?

Aside from giving your herpes kitty some extra attention, good food and the occasional course of anti-biotics … you will:

  • use lots of tissues to wipe up her boogers,
  • clean your windows way more than a “normal” person will,
  • not get freaked out when your cat sneezes a big one on your book, hand, shirt or face,
  • you will buy L-lysine in bulk, and
  • probably give her a cute nick-name like “sniffer cat” ;)

And now for some of the more technical/medical questions

Which cats are more susceptible to the herpes virus?

Cats of all sizes, ages, and breeds are susceptible to feline herpes. However, cats in crowded or stressful conditions or with weak immune systems often develop more severe symptoms, as can kittens, Persians, and other flat-face breeds.

Can humans, dogs, or other animals contract herpes from a cat?

No. Humans, dogs, and other animals are not at risk for catching feline herpes.  Likewise, cats cannot catch the strains of herpes that humans carry.

How is feline herpes diagnosed?

Diagnosis can be challenging, and is often based on a combination of symptoms, health history and lab tests. If symptoms of feline herpes are noticed/suspected, a veterinarian should be consulted. The same symptoms may point to calcivirus, which causes upper respiratory disease as well.

The veterinarian cant take a blood sample for testing with a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. However, the test can be negative even if the cat is infected, so further testing may be needed.

My cat has the feline herpes – what can I do?

Once infected, the majority of cats do not get rid of the virus. However, symptoms can be treated. Veterinarians may prescribe oral antibiotics or antiviral medications to help ease symptoms, and drops or creams may be used for conjunctivitis or other eye irritations. With medication, good nutrition, supplements, and tender loving care, most cats can make a successful recovery.

Conjunctivitis and corneal ulcers are treated with topical antibiotics for secondary bacterial infection. L-lysine has been recommended anecdotally to suppress viral replication.A more recent study supports the use of L-lysine for treatment of ocular signs of FHV-1 infection.

Any cat developing an upper respiratory infection should be under veterinary supervision. A brief exam by a veterinarian will help to determine if your cat requires medication, has a fever,or is dehydrated. If a cat is just sneezing, but is otherwise acting normally, no treatment will likely be needed. However, if a cat begins to show nasal discharge, loss or appetite or other symptoms, there is evidence of a secondary bacterial infection and cause for starting antibiotics.

Please do not administer any medication to your cat unless you’ve discussed it with your veterinarian.

How can I reduce flare-ups?

Reduce stress! The virus reactivates with stress so a low-stress environment is helpful in reducing flare-ups. Your cat can be put under stress by any sudden change in his (or your) daily routine, by a sudden change in environment (new house, new roommate, new kids!) or even loud noises.

How Can I Help My Infected Cat Feel Better?

  • Frequently clean his eyes (discharge may dry, creating a hard, uncomfortable crust).
  • A humidifier in the cat’s environment or time in a steamy bathroom can help the congestion.
  • Create a calm, restful home for your cat.
  • Make sure your cat is regularly eating and drinking water. Some cats may require supportive feeding.

Getting rid of the Virus:

Most household disinfectants will inactivate FHV-1. The virus can survive up to 18 hours in a damp environment, but less in a dry environment and only shortly as an aerosol.


Raising Hope

This fall we were overwhelmed with the abandonment of 10 kittens at two separate adoption days. As a rescue group, with limited foster space, these events can be very hard to manage. Add malnourished, flea-ridden and then ringworm and it’s more like a disaster. In September, the seven-pack of Gallagher, Mischa, Brody, Natalie, Pedro, Nicole and Alvaro were abandoned in a cloth laundry bin. In November, Aja, Kasey, and Trixie were abandoned in the vestibule of our adoption center’s retail store.

Gallagher, Mischa, Brody, Aja, Kasey, and Trixie were vetted and quickly nursed back to health. They are all doing well in their wonderful forever homes.

Natalie, Pedro, Nicole, and Alvaro spent months in an amazing foster home – recovering from anemia, upper respiratory, eye infections and ringworm. Just before Christmas, Natalie & Pedro were adopted together!

Natalie & Pedro

Natalie & Pedro

That leaves us with our special pair: Nicole & Alvaro. Early on, a veterinarian told us that Nicole would very likely lose an eye … and none of us disagreed (it was REALLY awful looking). Alvaro crashed on us three separate times but syringe feeding, a heating pad and committed fosters saved him. It really was touch-and-go several times with these kittens.

Nicole & Alvaro 9/17

Nicole & Alvaro – September 2013

But, finally after 4.5 months of crazy medical and foster care, they are ready for adoption!

And in raising Nicole & Alvaro, we have raised hope for many homeless cats and kittens. So much is possible with a little extra care, comfort and of course your generous donations. What we do is literally not possible without your help!

Thank you for supporting us so that we can save these precious animals!

Nicole & Alvaro

Nicole & Alvaro – February 2014


Up, Down, Up, Down, UP!

I live in a land of lists. Adopted animals, adoptable animals, TNR locations & requests, animals that need to be spayed/neutered, things to do, people to call/email, donations, expenses, pros, cons, ups and downs …

When looking back on any time period, I tend to categorize events so that I can try to make sense of the history. 2013 was a roller coaster and the big events are highlighted here (click the image to enlarge):

2013 eventsThis year started out with extreme sadness for our group, when Gilda suddenly passed away. I think her absence is still felt during adoption hours at PetSmart. But, we had to push on – little Nicholas was rescued during a TNR project and we were able to save his life with a $3,000 urinary tract surgery. Then we had our first “triple adoption” of the year: Ginger, Herald and Sally!

Paws for Celebration

Kandy was the poster cat for PfC 2013

One of the big highlights of the year was when Kandy (FeLV/FIV positive) was adopted (March)! Grace was tested for allergies – with rice determined as the biggest culprit. Paws for Celebration was held in April and garnered rave reviews – the 2014 event will be held on Friday, May 16 featuring music by 45 Riots. Another $3,000 surgery was needed in May – this time for Tommy Lee. And in June, we struggled to get the “hoarder cats” healthy and friendly so they could be up for adoption – Oz & Xander (bonded brothers) and Faith are still waiting for their forever homes.

But, back to the “ups”: the Sidewalk Angels Foundation surprised us with a $10,000 grant in July and the North Brunswick Humane Association gave us a $1,000 spay/neuter grant in August. Dean + Farrington had the majority of their teeth removed in August. Quickly following that news was the awesome adoptions of long-time resident, Jill, and our very first Zen Dog, Zen! Later in September, we got slammed with seven very ill kittens that were abandoned in front of our PetSmart in a laundry basket (with three more abandoned several weeks later). Six of the ten have found forever homes. Winnie had an eye removed due to a massive infection when she was a baby-kitten.

In October, super senior Farrington was adopted – he was one of Gilda’s fosters! Casino Night was a big success and the Rabbits Den Tattoo Parlor honored us during their annual Halloween tattoo event! We gave up our Edgebrook adoption space due to too many schedule conflicts – but we hope to add a new adoption space in 2014! And, recently, Jessica Rabbit was diagnosed with Spina Bifida and Robin was diagnosed with mega-colon.



Up, down, up, down, UP:

However, we end 2013 on a very high note: Bubba-C was adopted! Our sweet boy had seen three other homes before this one but we are very confident that THIS is the perfect place for him!




121 cats/kittens and 1 dog were adopted out in 2013!

Adopted 2013

We have 32 cats/kittens available for adoption:

Available Cats

So many struggles (“downs”) are thrown at us each year, but we always keep our eyes on the victories (“ups”) so we don’t get discouraged and lose sight of the ultimate goal: making as much of a difference as possible in the lives of homeless and abandoned animals.

We are looking forward to many more “ups” in 2014 – please join us! Our work is made possible by all our volunteers, donors and adopters!!

  1. Adopt or Foster
  2. Volunteer
  3. Donate
  4. Like, comment, and share our adoption posts on Facebook.
  5. Retweet and favorite our Tweets on Twitter.
  6. Subscribe to our email updates.
  7. Read and share our blog posts.

Happy New Year,

Christie and Everyone at Karma Cat + Zen Dog Rescue Society!

Engineers + Cats, Part 2.0

As anyone that has to live with an engineer knows, we are compelled to figure out how things work. All the time.

Our cats are not excluded from this character flaw trait. But lucky for everyone, Paul & TJ have expanded their “Engineer’s Guide to Cats” Series with version 2.0!

Learn about Aspect Ratio Drift, Post Modern Deconstruction Art, Gravity-based Activities, CISCIS, Cat Yodeling and Cat Energy Production Techniques.

And if this wasn’t enough of Paul & TJ, here’s the video of TJ adopting his first cat!!

Special Adoption: Harlow!

This sweet girl was surrendered to a local shelter when she was approximately 5 years old. As a delicate Siamese-mix, she was devastated and petrified in the shelter environment. We were able to transfer her out and place her in a foster home. It took a few months before Harlow relaxed enough to show us her true nature: sweet, polite and friendly!

She was recently adopted into a very full and loving home!

Her adopter sent us an update email:

Hi! I wanted to give you a little one month update on Harlow. She has acclimated very well! I am definitely her human. She sometimes runs when Jay comes in the room, which is hilarious! She loves to get up on the bathroom counter and in the sink to keep me company while I get ready for work every morning. She has her little napping spots all over the house, like the chairs under the dining room table and under the big fish tank. She lets me pick her up and snuggle her but still isn’t a lap cat. She’s fond of Piper but hisses at Gus and today she snuggled up with Piper on the couch! So, all in all, she’s doing great and if her excessive purring is any indication I think she’s quite happy!

Images from her new home:

Harlow during the morning routine!

Harlow during the morning routine!

Harlow getting in some cuddling time on the couch

Harlow getting in some cuddling time on the couch

Do you have an adoption update to share? Email us:


Onychectomy, popularly known as declawing, is an operation to surgically remove an animal’s claws by means of amputating all or part of the distal phalanx, or end bones, of the animal’s toes. (definition per wikipedia).

“Lilly” shows off her claws before her monthly pedicure.

But, let’s be honest about declawing … it is the mutilation of the animal’s paw so that the claws can no longer grow. The claw is removed along with the bone it is attached to (imagine your fingernail and finger up to the first joint). The traditional way of doing this is with an instrument that looks like a really big pair of nail trimmers – guillotine-style. Chop! Off with the claw and bone … and wait, half of the paw pad. Yup, that part of the animal that is used for walking, running, and balance – sliced in half.

Go on, imagine it … don’t make me post the pictures.

Guess that’s why several countries have banned declawing – it is illegal in Australia, Brazil, Israel, Finland, Estonia, Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and United Kingdom.

And despite the clear ethical guidelines given by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) (meaning: declawing should only be done in very extreme cases), surveys suggest that 95 percent of declaw surgeries are done to protect furniture.

Argh, so it is legal to mutilate a animal’s paws so that the furniture is not potentially damaged.

I’ve thought about this procedure a lot lately and it’s no surprise that I spend a lot of time watching and caring for cats. I’ve seen how they use their claws – primarily for stability and play.

A cat without claws is almost equivalent to a human without thumbs or big toes.

Think about how much you use your thumbs … and if they were amputated, how much you would have to alter the things you do on a daily basis? Good luck trying to pick up that coffee travel mug … or quickly maneuver the car steering wheel … or turn a round door knob. And those big toes … the majority of your balance when walking comes from the big toes.

As for those arguments about why cats should be declawed:

1. “I don’t want my furniture ruined.” ~Well, you probably shouldn’t have cats … or kids … or any parties that involve food or beverages. The pet supply stores have a large selection of scratching posts – give your cats their own furniture! :) Stores like PetSmart offer all kinds of options. Don’t have a lot of space? Something as simple as this cardboard scratcher works for many cats:

Cardboard Scratcher2. “My kids will get hurt.” ~No, no, no … the majority of cats are not out to harm your kid. Unless, of course, your kid is completely rambunctious and attacking the cat. Teach your children how to properly play with a cat using a wand toy that will keep the hands safely away from the cats claws.

3. “All my other cats are declawed.” ~So? Again, the new cat with claws is not on a mission to seek out and hurt the cats with no claws. A well-socialized cat has no agenda for blood. Watch a pair of cats that have their claws play-fight: no blood, no injuries. For more information about how to successfully introduce and socialize a new cat, check out our blog post on Cat Introductions.

4. “I don’t know how to trim the cat’s nails.” ~You are a very smart person – you can learn. And if that fails, there are plenty of ‘cat people’ out there that can do this for you. Here’s a video of how to trim a cat’s nails:

Recently, The Paw Project movie was released. Screenings are listed on their website … if it shows up near you, please go see it! 

For more information: 

Failing to Save the Cats

The New Jersey 2012 municipal shelter statistics are finally available (in general, rescue groups are not included).

But, don’t get too excited – they aren’t really that pretty. Better than some states, sure … but are they acceptable in the age of knowledge, ever-increasing pet care (i.e. money spent on our pets) and increased taxes?

Of those shelters choosing to report, over 26,000 animals were put to death in NJ shelters in 2012. That is 30% of those impounded. THIRTY PERCENT. If you have 3 animals in your house right now, just look at all them and imagine one dead because the shelter system in this state (and country) is broken.

The report shows over 22,000 of those killed in 2012 were cats. That is 82.6% of all animals impounded. WHAT?

60 cats per day. New Jersey is failing when it comes to saving cats.

Keep in mind that reporting is voluntary so the actual numbers are likely higher. And practically ALL municipal shelters are funded with tax-payer dollars. YOUR MONEY.

So, what can be done?

Karma Cat + Zen Dog started in Middlesex County, New Jersey and we do the majority of our adoptions here. Likewise, at this time, the majority of our animals are rescued from Middlesex County. According to the above report, Middlesex County killed 1,667 animals in 2012. Of that number, 1,264 were cats … 89.3% of shelter intake.


Eight years of reported Middlesex County shelter intake & euthanasia of cats & dogs

The highlights:

  • Cat intake is generally increasing with the number of cats euthanized slightly decreasing each year.
  • Dog intake is slightly increasing with the number of dogs euthanized slightly decreasing each year. (Some event must have taken place in 2009 for the intake number to be so high)

But, really: NOT MUCH HAS CHANGED IN EIGHT YEARS. Especially for the cats …

“Nobody WANTS to kill healthy pets” right? Well, sorry, but why are over 1,000 cats killed in Middlesex shelters every year?

Oh, right … “Pet Overpopulation” … We’ve all heard the tag line: “too many pets, not enough homes”

It’s just NOT TRUE!

For pet overpopulation to be true, the number of homes/families looking for a new pet must be lower than the number of available, adoptable pets. So, let’s do some math …

Part 1: How many homes are available for pets? According to the U.S. Census of 2011, Middlesex County had 296,076 households (1) … for the sake of this post, let’s assume that number is the same for 2012 (the year of the latest shelter statistics).

Part 2: Of those Middlesex County homes, how many have pets? If we assume that our county is “average” for the U.S., then according to the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Market Research Statistics (2) 36.5% of households will have 1.6 dogs and 30.4% of households will have 2.1 cats.

Crunching the numbers, that gives 172,908 dogs and 189,015 cats as pets in Middlesex County, NJ. (Hey, look at that – more cats than dogs!)

The life expectancy of dogs varies by breed and size … the life expectancy of medium size dogs is 10 to 13 years (3). Cats live 15 to 17 years on average (4). Averaging, we get 11.5 year lifespan for dogs, and 16 year lifespan for cats. This means that, …

Of the 172,908 dogs in Middlesex County, 1/11.5 (15,036) will pass away each year and of the 189,015 cats in Middlesex County, 1/16 (11,813) will pass away each year.

Part 3: Compare Part 1 and Part 2

This also means that 26,849 pets (15,036 dogs + 11,813 cats) could be replaced every year in the county to maintain a constant rate of pet ownership. While it is true that not everyone replaces a beloved pet immediately, and some people decide not to replace a pet that has died, others decide to obtain a companion for the first time, so we can assume that the rate of pet ownership remains roughly constant over time.

This graphic should help illustrate the point that there ARE enough potential homes for ALL the euthanized animals in Middlesex County:


In 2012, 1,264 cats and 152 dogs were euthanized.

The above estimation only works if all the cats & dogs entering the shelter system are adoptable. One of the major issues is that there is no comprehensive program for feral cats. If there were a program to 1. keep feral cats out of the shelter system and 2. provide vaccinations and spay/neuter surgeries for those that do end up at the shelter, we would likely see the number of cats euthanized drop drastically.

Enter: TNR! Trap-Neuter-Return!!

Healthy cats do not belong in shelters. TNR is the only way to save cats’ lives, reduce and stabilize community cat populations, and free up very badly needed shelter space for adoptable animals. This is how communities should be spending their money on cats instead of killing them.

You can help:


  1. New Jersey Census Facts:
  2. 2012 U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook as quoted by the American Veterinary Medical Association
  3. Wikipedia.  “Aging in Dogs”
  4. Average cat lifespan:
  5. New Jersey Animal Statistics: (view other years by changing the last two numbers in the link – all the way back to 04).

Inspiration for portions of this post:

Cat Introductions

There’s a reason we recommend certain things when adding a new cat to a home … we’ve been down this road quite a few times and we kinda know what we are talking about. No, seriously … of the 10+ adoption counselors, we have something like 75 cats amongst us. We’ve “been there, done that” and we have the range of adoptable cats from “hey, whatever man” (awwww, Bubba-C) to “I’M THE PRINCESS OF THIS INDOOR CASTLE AND YOU ALL SHALL BOW TO MEEEEE” (all capital letters on purpose, thank you Siren).

All kidding aside, there is a process that can make the addition of a new cat into a home go smoothly. Follow these 5 steps to a successful cat addition:

  1. Start the new cat in one room with food & water, bedding, litter box.
  2. Bond with the new cat, in the room, for a few days.
  3. Let other animals in the home adjust to the smell of the new cat – feed treats or wet food on opposite sides of the door.
  4. Swap bedding so the new cat can investigate the current animals’ smells and vice versa.
  5. With supervision, let the new cat explore the home – paying close attention to all the animals’ reactions. Separate if tensions escalate beyond the normal hissing.

Harmony in a Window

And here are the details to hopefully avoid this:


It took several supervised meetings for these two kitties to become friends

Even if the cat you are adopting is good with other cats, there is always the possibility of problems when introducing strangers to each other. There are several steps that you can take to reduce the likelihood of problems. Before bringing your new cat home, create a separate “territory” for him/her. This area should be equipped with food, water, a scratching post, a litter box, access to natural sunlight, and comfortable resting places (a hiding spot is normally a great idea too).

Your other cats should have their own separate territory. Make certain that both areas (the space for the new cat and the space for the other cats) contain multiple hiding places so the cats can easily retreat if necessary. Large cardboard boxes with holes cut in two sides make great hiding places. The second hole allows a cat to escape if cornered by another cat. The boxes will come into play once you start allowing the cats to interact directly, but it can be helpful to introduce the boxes first, so that the cats become accustomed to using them. Keep in mind that cats like to hide in high places, so remove fragile items from large shelves or block access to the small/knick-knacky shelves.

Place your new cat in the designated space as soon as you arrive home, and spend a minimum of one hour with him/her (and the other cats in the household) per day. Play with them regularly and watch them closely for signs of stress or anxiety, such as hiding, aggressive behavior, decreased appetite, and/or excessive vocalization. If you see any of these signs, your cat MIGHT be having a stress reaction to “the change”. Breathe, relax, take a step back. But, if the signs persist for more than several days and/or if your cat stops eating, consult with your veterinarian.

If any cat is showing mild signs of stress, give him or her time to acclimate to the new situation. If all the cats appear comfortable in their spaces, place the new cat in a different room after two days (equipped with the same amenities), and allow your other cats to enter the new cat’s original territory. This will allow each cat to become accustomed to the others’ scent in a non-threatening way. Allow the cats to acclimate to their new areas for at least one day.

Caveat: If your new “cat” is really a tiny kitten (say, less than 4 months of age) … as soon as they are accustomed to YOU, their new litter box and their new food … LET THEM MEET THE OTHER CATS. In general, introductions with kittens can go much faster as older/established cats usually do not look at a less than 4 lb kitten as a threat. A nuisance, well maybe, but not a threat. Let the hissing happen … let the established cats have their say and raise their paw. The kitten will quickly learn who is boss and will, typically, adjust their behaviors.

Here’s an additional way to introduce cats to each others’ scent: Cats have glands in their cheeks that produce pheromones. When your cat rubs her cheek against a wall, chair, or your leg, she produces pheromones, which are chemical substances that can help to relieve anxiety and provide information about the cat who is producing those pheromones. Exposing each cat to towels that were gently rubbed on the new cat’s cheeks may be a good way to introduce them. Some cats respond very well to a synthetic pheromone (a spray or diffuser) – these can be purchased online or in pet supply stores.

Next, you can start allowing the cats closer access to each other by placing them on either side of a closed door so that they can smell each other directly. The next step is to allow them to see each other through a baby gate or a door that is propped open two inches. If the cats are interested in each other and seem comfortable, allow them to meet. Open the door to the rooms between the cats and observe them closely.

If any cat shows signs of significant stress or aggression, separate them again and introduce them more slowly. Once the cats have acclimated to being allowed to sniff each other through a door, bring each cat into a large room, on opposite sides. If you have a willing helper, each person should play, pet and/or give food treats to one of the cats. If you do not have a helper, place the more comfortable cat in a cat carrier with a bowl of canned cat food to keep him occupied and play with the other cat. Over multiple sessions, gradually bring the cats closer to each other. This exercise teaches the cats that they get special rewards in each others’ presence, and that nothing bad is happening. With time, the cats will learn that they are not a threat to each other.

Remember, an anxious cat is much more likely to behave aggressively than a cat who is comfortable and relaxed. If you use patience in the initial stages of the introduction process, you will increase your chances of a harmonious household. One of the keys to success: YOU have to be comfortable and relaxed too! Fake until you make it!! ;)

The above recommendations are guidelines to increase the likelihood that your new cat will get along with the existing cat(s) in your household. If you have tried these techniques and your cats are still not getting along, please seek the help of your veterinarian or a behaviorist … none of your cats want you to give up on them, they just want you to understand and adjust accordingly.


Getting Along at Dinner-Time!