Poxvirus Infection in Cats


PetMD Editorial

Updated Aug. 24, 2022

Viral Skin Infection in Cats

The poxvirus infection is caused by a DNA virus from the Poxviridae virus family, specifically from the Orthopoxvirus genus. This is a relatively common transmitted virus, but it can be readily inactivated by several types of viral disinfectants.

Cats of all ages, genders, and breeds are susceptible to the poxvirus infection, and both domestic and exotic cats can contract a poxvirus infection. It is important to note, however, that the virus is geographically limited to Eurasia, the continents of Europe, and Asia.

Symptoms and Types

Skin lesions are one of the primary symptoms of poxvirus infection in cats. These lesions may develop immediately, or they may be secondary, developing after one to three weeks. The lesions are generally circular and crusty, and multiple lesions usually develop on the head, neck, or forelimbs. In approximately 20 percent of cases, lesions appear in the mouth (oral lesions).

In some cases, additional systematic symptoms may appear, including anorexia, sluggishness, vomiting, diarrhea, pneumonia, and discharge from the eyes (conjunctivitis).


The poxvirus infection is caused by the Orthopoxvirus, from the family Poxviridae. This virus is found in wild rodents, and infection is thought to be acquired through bites from infected rodents. Bites typically occur when a cat is exhibiting normal hunting behavior. Lesions will often develop at the site of the bite wound (see symptom details referring to lesions). There are also some cases of cat-to-cat transmission, although these instances are rare. Most cases of poxvirus infection occur between the months of August and October, when small wild mammals are most active, and are at maximum population.


The poxvirus infection may be diagnosed by isolating the virus from scab material taken from the surface of the lesions. This is one method of definitive diagnosis, with a 90 percent chance of correctly identifying the virus if it is present. A microscopic skin biopsy can also be useful.

If the poxvirus is not present, other diagnoses may include bacterial or fungal infections, or an irregular cell growth, such as a tumor.


There is no specific treatment available for treating the poxvirus infection in cats, but supportive treatment may be given to help treat the symptoms. This can include antibiotic therapy for the prevention of secondary infections. An Elizabethan collar (a cone shaped collar placed around the neck) may be used to prevent self-induced damage caused by excessive licking, or from scratching at face and head lesions.

Living and Management


Most cats that have been infected by the poxvirus will recover spontaneously within one to two months. Healing may be delayed by secondary bacterial skin infection, but this can be prevented by regular administration of antibiotics, as prescribed by your veterinarian. Symptoms should be monitored in case additional precautions need to be taken.

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