The name “ringworm” is a little misleading. That’s because there is no worm involved at all. Ringworm in cats is actually a fungal skin infection. It gets its name from the ring-shaped rash that often flares up on the skin of an infected cat or person.
A fungus called Microsporum canis is the typical cause of ringworm infections in cats.
So, how serious is ringworm, and can it spread from cats to humans? Read on for the lowdown about ringworm in cats – and the treatments you need to know about.
What is Ringworm?
The organisms that lead to ringworm infections belong to a group of fungi called dermatophytes. The medical name for ringworm is dermatophytosis.
Some kinds of dermatophytes are species-specific and others are not. In cats, the species of dermatophyte responsible for nearly all ringworm infections are also infectious to dogs and humans.
How Does Ringworm Spread?
Transmission happens through direct contact with the fungus. That can occur by touching an infected animal or person as well as contaminated objects and surfaces.
The fungal spores can lie dormant in the environment on loose hair, brushes, combs, furnishings, carpets, bedding, and food bowls for up to 18 months. Contact with ringworm fungus will not necessarily always lead to an infection. The degree of environmental contamination is a key factor in whether ringworm infection develops.
Once the fungus makes contact with an animal or human, it sets up a home on the surface of the hair, skin, or nails. If a particular area of skin is already damaged (such as a wound), it is more susceptible to ringworm. And similarly, if a specific animal has a decreased immune system (due to being young, old or sick for example), they are also more susceptible in general. It typically takes a week or two before symptoms of the infection start to show up.
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How Can I tell if My Cat Has Ringworm?
Some cats with ringworm may appear to be asymptomatic. This could be because it’s too early in the infection process for the signs of ringworm to show up. If your cat is a long-haired variety, it may be tricky to see the skin and any of the round-like sores that may start appearing.
Other cats are simply asymptomatic carriers. That means that they may never display symptoms of the infection despite still being able to spread it to others.
The fungi that cause ringworm to live off dead skin, hair, and nail tissue. Hair loss in specific areas should act as a warning sign of the potential presence of ringworm in your cat. You may notice bald patches of varying sizes on your cat. These tend to be circular and reveal round-shaped sores on the skin’s surface.
You may also notice that your cat develops hair damage. Their coat may no longer appear as shiny and there may be patches of weakened hair. The fungal spores can move from the skin’s surface into the hair shafts and that can cause hair damage, loss, and discoloration.
Your cat may start to have patches of flaky, scaly, or crusty skin. You might notice a lot of dandruff. If you do, check your cat’s skin thoroughly for patches of damaged skin. In cats, the key areas to watch for are the skin on the chest, head, forelegs, and along the ridge of the back.
You should comb through your cat’s fur to see if there are any areas of skin that have become reddened or inflamed. Although less common, ringworm can also affect the claws. Check them to see if they are brittle or damaged at the base.
Sometimes the affected areas get itchy or painful. This can cause your cat to over-groom themselves where the infection has taken hold.
Making a Ringworm Diagnosis
Some cases of feline ringworm will glow a yellow-green color – when a vet examines the coat and skin of an infected cat in a darkened room under an ultraviolet light known as a Wood’s lamp.
However, the Wood’s lamp test is not always reliable. Your vet may recommend additional tests to confirm the presence of ringworm. The best way to diagnose ringworm in cats is through a culture of the fungus. To carry this out, your vet will gather samples of hair and skin, and place it in a growth medium. If the medium changes color, then it is very indicative of a diagnosis. However, a positive culture can take anywhere from a few days to two weeks to confirm.
How to Treat Ringworm
The usual way to treat ringworm in cats is through a mixture of topical therapy (i.e. the application of ointments, shampoos, and creams) and anti-fungal drugs taken orally. The level of treatment depends on the severity of the infection. For treatment to be effective, your vet will also need to ensure there is no chance of further environmental contamination.
You should follow the instructions of your vet carefully. The treatment often takes a long time, and stopping treatment too soon – when the infection seems to have cleared up – can lead to the fungus coming back. Topical treatment will typically be necessary for anything between several weeks and several months.
If you have more than one pet, try to keep the infected animals apart. In certain situations, it may be best to treat all pets. Your vet will advise you on the best course of action given your individual circumstances.
Your vet may also recommend shaving the hair, particularly if your cat belongs to a long-haired breed. After bathing or treating your cat, wash your hands in hot soapy water. Sanitize any surfaces your cat may have come into contact with by using a diluted solution of bleach.
Clean All Surfaces Carefully
Cats can pass ringworm on to humans, especially children, quite easily. It’s important to take action to minimize their exposure to the fungus while the cat undergoes treatment. People with a compromised immune system will be more likely to get ringworm from cats and develop symptoms.
Wash your cat’s bedding thoroughly along with blankets that your cat may have slept on or rubbed against. Vacuum and clean all surfaces including floors – as the fungus spreads on loose hairs, vacuuming as much loose hair as possible is one of the most important aspects of environmental decontamination. You should also consider giving carpets a deep clean. All this will help mitigate the chances of the ringworm fungus surviving in the environment and returning to infect your cat and your household again.
Ask a Vet for Advice About Ringworm in Cats
Getting rid of ringworm takes plenty of commitment and perseverance. Although treatable, it can take a lot of hard work to stop the chances of infection from breaking out again.
If you have any questions about ringworm or if you think your cat may be suffering from it, please get in touch with us now. Book a consultation today with a member of our highly trained veterinary team.