Despite its name, ringworm isn’t a worm at all! It’s actually a fungal infection similar to athlete’s foot that leaves a red “bulls-eye” ring of hair loss that gives the malady its name. Cats seem to be particularly susceptible to ringworm, especially kittens, elderly cats, and cats with compromised immune systems. However, it is not limited to cats; other animals and even humans can get it!
Classic symptoms of ringworm in cats include skin lesions that typically appear on the head, ears and forelimbs. In mild cases, there may be localized areas of redness or simply dandruff, while more severe infections can spread over a cat’s entire body. It’s itchy! When evaluating a cat, watch for repeated scratching on a reddened, circular patch.
A cat can get ringworm directly through contact with an infected animal or indirectly through contact with bedding, dishes and other materials that have been contaminated with the skin cells or hairs of infected animals. Ringworm spores are notoriously hardy and can survive in the environment for more than a year!
What should you do?
If you suspect your cat has ringworm it is important that you see your vet for an accurate diagnosis. Find a place that can be thoroughly cleaned with a bleach solution, like a bathroom, to quarantine your cat until the veterinarian can diagnose her. You should also thoroughly wash your hands after you touch your cat.
Treatment of ringworm depends on the severity of the infection. A veterinarian may prescribe a shampoo or ointment that contains a special medication to kill the fungus. In some cases, oral medications are necessary. In order to ensure that you’ve eradicated this resistant and hardy fungus, treatment may have to be given for several months or more and fungal cultures rechecked periodically. It’s also important to treat the cat’s environment, too, to prevent infection from recurring.
Stop the spread
If the veterinarian diagnoses your cat with ringworm, it’s important to remember that other pets and members of the household have likely been exposed. To keep this pesky problem from spreading, your veterinarian may recommend the following:
- Bathe all pets in the household with a medicated rinse or shampoo.
- Wash the infected animals’ bedding and toys with a disinfectant that kills ringworm spores.
- Discard items that are impossible to thoroughly disinfect (carpeted cat trees, etc.)
- Frequently vacuum to rid the house of infected hairs and skin cells. (Yes, the fungus can survive on hair and skin that your cat sheds!)
- Clean your cat’s quarantine area daily with a diluted bleach solution. Wear disposable gloves and clothes that can be washed in hot water when cleaning or handling your cat until she is no longer contagious.
- Make sure your cat (and whoever else is affected) finishes their course of treatment to be certain that the fungus doesn’t come back.
Let us know if you’ve found this information helpful, and feel free to offer suggestions for topics you’d like to see us cover on Tuesdays!
adapted from Ringworm in Cats, https://pets.webmd.com/cats/ringworm-in-cats