Ringworm in Cats : What Are the Signs and How Is It Treated?

What causes ringworm?

Contrary to its name, the condition is actually caused by a fungus.

There are more than forty different species of fungi that can cause ringworm. However, the specific subtypes are Trichophyton, MicrosporumY epidermophyton. Collectively, they fall under the name of ringworm. It is closely related to the fungus, which causes athlete’s foot (tinea pedis) and jock itch (tinea cruris).

Most of these live around or close to us, traveling with us most of the time. It just takes the right conditions for it to take root and cause the problem.

What does ringworm look like?

Typical appearance of ringworm in a cat;  note the missing skin
Typical appearance of ringworm in a cat; note the missing skin

Ringworm is highly contagious

Ringworm is one of those diseases known as zoonotic, which means it is easily transmitted from animals to people and vice versa. First of all, the name is misleading and originates from a time period before medical science was well established. Doctors at the time assumed that the worms were crawling under the skin, causing the characteristic circular lesions.

Apart from the rather unsightly appearance, the main symptom is intense itching. Scratching can inflame the area and spread the problem to adjacent skin surfaces. People may cover lesions on arms or other exposed areas with a bandage for social reasons, but animals tend to lose hair in the affected area. If a poor kitty is already itchy, you don’t want to put anything taped around her fur.

It is, unfortunately, very contagious, so special care must be taken in terms of cleanliness, both at home and in personal hygiene.

Don’t panic if your cat has ringworm

Calmly check all your pets for signs of infection. The first symptom is usually scratching; a lot of scratching The condition, as mentioned, itches intensely. At first, you may suspect fleas, but in the absence of any other evidence of fleas, such as seeing fleas, being bitten by fleas, or seeing flea “dirt” (actually, feces) on light-colored surfaces where cats sleep, suspect ringworm instead.

It can cause a grainy, gritty feeling on the skin inside the outer ear. Also, they may have scratched, bitten, and licked the area enough to create a larger bald patch than was caused by the initial outbreak. That’s sad, but it also makes diagnosis easier.

How to tell if your cat has ringworm

Check the areas where they are scratching. It is often in or near the ears; Above the head; near the tail; his “armpits”; and in the legs. It almost always causes hair loss in the affected area. Look for the telltale pink ring.

When in doubt, there’s a foolproof test: get a black light (also called a Wood’s lamp), take the cat into a dark room, and shine the light on suspicious areas. If it’s ringworm, it will fluoresce bright green. So you have your diagnosis.

If you have several animals, mark them all. The ones that do test positive need to be quarantined from the others, or they’ll get it too, and then you’ll be fighting a long battle with them passing it back and forth.

The entire course of infection and treatment can be a real pain in the ass and can take several weeks, but fortunately, it does not cause any real harm to the cat, i.e. it is not life-threatening. Kitty will be pretty unhappy for a while, but she’ll soon be back on track.

How is feline ringworm treated?

The usual treatment given by many vets is miconazole, which is a topical antifungal cream. Clotrimazole is another option, easily available without a prescription. You may know these things by another generic term: athlete’s foot cream. Your vet will know best what treatment to prescribe.

If cream needs to be applied to an area where the cat can reach to lick it, it will taste terrible and she will end up salivating in large amounts, coming out of her mouth looking foamy and obviously unhappy. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to learn and it will happen again. Apply the cream to the affected area two to three times a day and rub in well. Wash your hands well afterwards, and also between treating other animals.

A lime and sulfur bath for kittens used to be prescribed. They hated it and it sucks, but it’s pretty much been replaced by a pill that the vet can prescribe.

Don’t wait to talk to your vet

Talk to your vet again if you seem unable to fix the problem at home. But don’t expect too much; scratching and biting can, in addition to spreading the problem to other areas, cause secondary inflammation and infection.

Most cats hate baths, as everyone knows;  The worst thing about dip is that it doesn't rinse.
Most cats hate baths, as everyone knows; The worst thing about dip is that it doesn’t rinse. Flickr, Bryan Bug, Creative Commons

Remedies for itching? ask your vet

If kitty is really miserable about itching, your vet can offer a remedy to address that issue. You may also need to resort to a cone collar, often called “the cone of shame,” to prevent them from reaching the area. It will avoid biting and licking their hindquarters, as well as prevent them from scratching their heads.

For humans, there are also prescription oral tablets available (terbinafine hydrochloride, sold under the trade name Lamisil®), taken in a six-week course. It is also available for cats, in doses based on weight. Check with your vet. They may also do a skin scrape test for positive identification.

See your own doctor if you suspect you have contracted the condition.

to be aware

Always see your vet right away if you notice signs of a worsening problem or secondary infection.

A typical cone collar on a cat
A typical cone collar on a cat Anders Knudsen, Flickr, CC

How to prevent reinfection

  • Vacuum carpets daily; use a disinfectant spray on such non-washable surfaces
  • Vacuum and wash cat bedding (if not washable, spray with an antifungal spray)
  • vacuum and wash your bedding, if the kitty sleeps with you (and banish it while it lasts)
  • mopping bare floors
  • Keep litter boxes clean
  • Use towels only once and wash them in hot water.
  • Pay attention to personal hygiene
  • Keep children away from affected pets
  • Be obsessive about hand washing; use a hand sanitizer between animals
  • Scrub carriers, kennels, and mop bare floors with a disinfectant solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water

In severe cases, it may be necessary to wash the mat with a disinfectant detergent. Just make sure it’s made for carpet shampoo machines, or you could have a real soapy disaster on your hands.

Can you get ringworm again?

Unfortunately yes. The fungus (scientific name, ringworm) lives in damp places and also survives on surfaces touched by an infected person or animal. If the problem recurs within a few weeks of finishing treatment, it is likely not a second infection, but rather treatment stopped too soon and a relapse based on the incubation period of the fungus.

There is some marginal evidence to suggest that immunity can be obtained after having an infection with this agent, but it is inconclusive as it has not been tested in people, although there has been experimental work with vaccines in animals in a laboratory setting.

I’m not a vet but I had a bout with this on our cats, my husband got a dose and several kitties with the rescue group I volunteer with had it. My information is based on these experiences and additional research online. My best advice? Always consult your vet when your pets develop a problem.

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