This might come as a surprise, but ringworm isn’t actually caused by a worm - confusing, right? Ringworm is actually a fungus known as dermatophytosis which, sadly, is highly contagious - to both humans and animals. Eek!
Ringworm is a fungal infection of the hair and skin which causes reddish, circular skin sores - which is exactly where it gets its name from. And yes, the worst thing about ringworm in cats is that often, owners or their children come down with the infection too. Yuck!
Untreated ringworm can become progressively worse, leaving your pet in real distress. If you understand the risk factors, symptoms and treatment you’ll be able to keep a close eye on your kitty and help them if they develop the infection.
Causes and transmission of ringworm in cats
Understanding how a cat can catch ringworm is simple. One word - contact! If your cat comes into direct contact with an infected animal’s hair, a contaminated object (combs, furniture, bedding) or the infected animal itself, it’s rather easy to pick up the infection.
Thankfully, healthy, adult cats should have a natural resistance to the infection and might not develop ringworm, even if they come into contact with infected animals. However, you should keep an extra eye on your cat if they’re a kitten, a senior or have another condition which weakens their immune system as they hold a higher risk of ringworm.
Geographical location has an influencing factor too. Your cat is more likely to develop a ringworm infection if you live in an area with lots of cats, especially strays.
Symptoms of ringworm in cats
“While you have your cat on your lap, check it for signs of ringworm. These are very often on the head, where it has nuzzled against another cat. Look around the eyes, the ears and on the paws for bald spots, the ring mark or merely red, flaky dry skin. The cat may lick it or scratch the spot frequently and there might be dandruff” explains Owen Jones in Cats and Dogs: Useful Tips.
Indeed, ringworm sores are usually scaly, dry, itchy, hairless red circles on the skin. But often, cats only have minor lesions which are fairly difficult to spot. You might also notice dandruff, a poor coat, darkened skin and significant hair loss. Keep an eye on the head, ears and legs in particular and keep an eye on anything suspicious.
Remember to always wash your hands after inspecting a cat who may have ringworm, to lower the risk of catching it yourself - trust us, it’s not fun!
Diagnosis of ringworm in cats
If you suspect your cat has ringworm, you should head to the vets as soon as you can. On top of this, keep your kitty away from children, the elderly and other animals to prevent passing the disease on to them.
Your vet might take a collection of skin scales and hair samples to culture, carry out a microscopic examination of hair, perform a skin biopsy or use a special black light to display fungus.
Treatment of ringworm in cats
Most cats are treated for ringworm as an outpatient. However, depending on the circumstances, quarantine is sometimes necessary to prevent spreading the infection further.
Treatment usually consists of three steps:
- A topical treatment such as Clotrimazole or Miconazole ointments or shampoo containing Ketoconazole.
- An oral medication such as Griseofulvin or Itraconazole
- Thorough cleaning and sterilisation of the cat’s environment
In terms of sterilisation, you’ll need to extremely thorough to prevent reinfection or passing on ringworm to other animals, as well as humans.
Hoover up all loose fur and mop all your floors with an antibacterial floor cleaner. Any objects which could be contaminated should be thoroughly cleaned, too - in fact, it’s best to give the whole house a spring clean! If you have pets, they’ll need to be inspected by a vet and possibly treated, too.
So, now you've got the down-low on ringworm in cats, you know exactly what to look for and what to do if your kitty was unfortunate enough to catch the disease. Good luck!