Ringworm in cats. That’s right, the fungal infection that you thought was limited to wrestlers and hockey players and other athletes that come into contact with one another, wear sweaty pads, or use public showers and locker rooms, can also infect your cat.
Despite the name (which probably evokes many wonderful images in your head), ringworm does not involve any actual worms. It is simply an infection caused by certain fungi that is highly contagious from person to person, pet to person, and person to pet. This fungal infection affects cats, dogs, and many other animals who may come into direct contact with it. Cats are often infected with ringworm because it is so easily transmitted.
However, there are some ways to prevent ringworm in your cat and keep your cat healthy and happy without any fungal infections along for the ride. Before we dive into how to prevent ringworm in cats, let’s first go over what it is and how to recognize it.
What Causes Ringworm in Cats
Ringworm is an infection that typically occurs in the superficial layers of your cat’s skin, hair, or nails. The name comes from the classical appearance of the round, red, raised 'ring' marking the boundary of inflammation in people or animals infected with the disease.
The organisms that cause ringworm infections belong to a specialized group of fungi known as dermatophytes, so the medical name for this disease is dermatophytosis. Some species of dermatophytes are species specific, meaning that they are only able to infect one particular species of animals. Whereas others can spread between cats and humans, cats and dogs, and other animals.
In cats, one species of dermatophyte, called Microsporum canis, is responsible for almost all ringworm infections. This species is also infectious to dogs and humans.
Symptoms of Ringworm in Cats
Ringworm in cats affects the top layer of skin when the fungi or its spores make contact with a cat’s skin. The legions create hairless, scaly, red rings on the skin. These lesions usually appear on your cat’s front legs, ears, or head, but can show up anywhere, especially when it comes to severe infections.
Other symptoms of ringworm in cats are:
· Itchiness – in general, ringworm is not especially itchy, but it really depends on the particular cat infected
· Hair Loss – ringworm in cats can cause mild to severe hair loss
· Crusting and scaling – Usually the scaling caused by ringworm is mild, but in some cats it can be extremely severe
· Blackheads – In young cats, ringworm can cause blackheads to appear on their chins
· Hyperpigmentation – ringworm infections may cause darkening of skin in some cats
· Redness – The areas of hair loss will usually become red
· Over Grooming – Cats with hair loss from apparent over grooming are sometimes found to actually have a ringworm infection
How Do Cats Get Ringworm?
Ringworm is resilient. This fungus can remain alive in a host of different and even harsh environments for up to a year. The most likely way your cat will contract ringworm is through skin to skin contact with an infected animal. However, cats can become infected by coming into contact with the fungus or spores on furniture, bedding, dishes, you, your kids, and other surfaces and materials.
All cats can contract ringworm, but it is most often found in older cats or kittens, due to their weakened or underdeveloped immune systems. Long-haired breeds are more prone than short-hair breeds, and the disease is especially virulent in crowded, warm environments, like animal shelters.
Diagnosis of Ringworm in Cats
In many cases of ringworm, the vet will use a special black light, known as a Wood’s lamp, to see if your cat’s skin or fur glows a green color. This is a simple and non-invasive test but is not completely accurate in many situations. Therefore, most vets will use a fungal culture. Your cat’s hairs from the affected areas are taken and placed on a special fungal culture medium.
A positive culture can sometimes be confirmed within a couple of days, but in some cases the fungal spores may be slow to grow, and culture results can take up to four weeks. This means that a suspected case cannot be called negative for at least a month.
How to Treat Ringworm in Cats
Once your vet determines that your cat has ringworm, they will most likely prescribe an antifungal medication to limit the spread of and kill the fungus.
One of the most common and effective treatments is Itraconazole. Itraconazole is very effective in treating ringworm but is often only available in capsules much too big for cats. There is an oral suspension that can be used but often the dosing volumes are inconveniently high for small patients along with palatability and flavoring issues. It's often dosed once daily for seven days given on alternating weeks for three total weeks. A compounding pharmacy may be used to compound capsules at just the right dose for your cat. A fish or chicken flavored suspension could also be a great, tasty solution if your cat isn't willing to swallow tablets or capsules so you can get your cat through the whole course of treatment.
Topical treatments for cat ringworm are also used, especially when the infection is not that severe or widespread. There are a range of creams and ointments that are available to apply to localized areas of the skin affected by ringworm. Shaving the hair in small areas may be sufficient if only one or two areas are affected. More often than not, particularly with more severe cases, a combination of oral and topical treatments will be used.
Your vet will determine the proper treatment route and dosage to effectively eradicate the disease. Whichever type of medication administration route your vet goes with, however, be sure to bathe the cat and any other pets you have in the house several times with medicated shampoo.
Clean the Ringworm out of Your House
After you realize and confirm that your cat has ringworm and begin treatment, you also have to thoroughly clean the environment in which your cat was living. As we mentioned, this type of fungus is very resilient and can survive in the environment for a very long time. For this reason, you should thoroughly wipe down and disinfect the entire house and, even while the animal is receiving treatment, confine them to a small room or area that is easily cleaned.
Your cat should be quarantined in this room until it has received oral antifungal medication for two weeks, and a minimum of four medicated baths.
If your veterinarian diagnoses your cat with ringworm and prescribes them anti-fungal medications, ointment, or shampoo, remember that you can fulfill all your cat’s medication needs online at Express Veterinary Pharmacy.