What is Ringworm?
The name ringworm often causes confusion – it’s not a worm like tapeworm, roundworm and other parasitic intestinal worms that cats and dogs get. It’s something entirely different and unrelated.
It’s called “ringworm” because the shape of the lesion is often (but not always) round and worm-like in shape on the skin.
Feline ringworm is a common skin condition, but it’s something that shouldn’t be ignored.
Not only is it highly uncomfortable for a cat to have ringworm, but this fungal infection can also be transferred to people who come into contact with the affected cat (making it a zoonosis – transferable to humans from animals). It goes without saying, that if your cat has been diagnosed with, or clearly has a ringworm problem, you’ll want to get to treating it right away.
If ringworm is left untreated and develops into a more severe case, it can spread over more areas of the cat’s body.
As responsible cat people, it’s up to us not to let this happen. Thankfully ringworm isn’t difficult or expensive to treat, and treatment can and should be sought at the first signs.
Why does a cat get ringworm?
Fungus is made up of spores (which are the reproductive parts of fungus) which travel through the environment, and can often stay in the environment for very long periods of time. Ringworm fungus is no exception. Your cat could be carrying ringworm fungal spores that he’s picked up from somewhere for a period of time, and not show any symptoms.
Cats who are in good overall health with strong immunity might be able to resist a ringworm infection despite exposure to the spores, but young kittens, old cats and those cats with immune health issues and other health problems are at a higher risk of developing ringworm.
Cats who are exposed to the ringworm fungal spores can also pass the condition on to other cats, so if you have a ringworm outbreak it’s important to monitor all of the cats in the household.
Symptoms of Ringworm
The most common locations on the body for a ringworm infection to take hold is on the face, and on the front paws. It can however show up anywhere.
The signs are obvious and noticeable after the infection starts to take hold, with hair loss in the affected area, redness and skin crusting.
The itchiness of the rash-like condition can result in excessive scratching and rubbing, bringing about even more grazing of the skin and potential additional infections.
It’s a highly uncomfortable problem for a cat to suffer with, so seeking treatment as quickly as possible is important.
Ringworm can be very distressing for a cat when left untreated, such as the photograph of the cat on this page of International Cat Care (who do wonderful work I might add), who is affected by a serious ringworm infestation on the face.
How to treat a cat who has ringworm
If you’re not familiar with ringworm, you’ll want a certain diagnosis from the vet before doing anything.
Although it usually has a specific appearance, there are other skin conditions like dermatitis that a cat can suffer from, and you’ll want to be sure that you’re actually dealing with a ringworm fungal infection before considering treatment. The vet will also be able to give the cat a proper look over to see if there are any other additional lesions on the body.
Your vet will want to confirm that it is indeed ringworm and not another possible skin condition. Fur can be examined under a microscope by the vet, to diagnose fungal spores. Along with a visual inspection of the skin, this is a sure fire way for a ringworm diagnosis to be made.
Ringworm will often clear up on its own in a relatively healthy cat within a few weeks. But the discomfort it causes, as well as the risk of spreading the infection to other cats, dogs, other animals and humans, means that not treating ringworm is not recommended.
An anti-fungal treatment is what’s required to effectively eliminate the ringworm infection. Veterinarian-prescribed medications include formulas containing itraconazole or griseofulvin. Oral anti-fungal medications and/or topical products may be prescribed by your vet.
Another treatment for ringworm involves using special medicated anti-fungal shampoos. Obviously, the fact that most cats won’t stand for being bathed can make this method quite difficult, and even impossible for some cats.
It’s not only your cats (and dogs if you have any) that need treatment if ringworm has made its way into your home – the environment needs to be as well. The goal is to reduce the spread of the fungal spores so they don’t make their way around more of your house and environment, such as an outdoor cat run. This includes all pet bedding, blankets and anything your cat has come into contact with.
It’s highly advisable to wear gloves when you’re handling a cat with ringworm, so you reduce the risk of YOU getting it as well. Treat the cat as a quarantine case, which means you’ll want to change your clothes afterwards as well, then washed ideally with a laundry detergent that contains anti-fungal agents or a laundry additive like Health Guard.
A thorough washing of the hands with a soap like PediFix FungaSoap can help you go that extra step in hygiene management.
What if you have other cats and other pets? Again, keeping basic quarantine prinicipals in mind can help reduce the risk of spread of ringworm.
How long to quarantine cat with ringworm?
How long and how exactly to keep a ringworm cat away from other animals (and indeed, young children) is largely going to come down to the facilities you have at hand. If you have a spare, vacant room that the affected cat can inhabit while being treated, this is ideal. This kind of set up more easily allows you to isolate the infected cat for a short time. It’s also beneficial for the cat or kitten with ringworm, as it allows for a more stress-free recovery area away from other pets. In the case of kittens, avoiding play and scratching will help the area heal faster.
With the right medication, good diet, hygiene and care, a cat doesn’t have to be in isolation for too long. Cats iwth a suppressed immune system have a harder time fighting off ringworm and these ones need to be monitored more closely with veterinary care. Healthy cats can overcome the ringworm infection faster and usually without complications.
Keeping the entire environment clean is important: ringworm spores can be anywhere. The basics like washing your hands after handling the cat is vital – and make sure children know to do the same. One of the best ways to minimize the risk of ringworm in the environment is regular steam cleaning of floors, and washing of fabrics.
Remember: a cat doesn’t have to have visible ringworm lesions to be contagious. If you’re in doubt, have your vet do a thorough check over of your cat’s coat.
What about over the counter anti-fungal treatments for ringworm?
Over the counter anti-fungal sprays made especially for cats and dogs are available at a low cost.
One made specifically for cats is Vet Recommended Ringworm Treatment (see review below), while another option is SynergyLabs Antiseptic & Antifungal Spray for Dogs and Cats.
Whatever treatment you end up deciding on, vets recommend continuing treatment until at least 2 weeks after you’ve noticed the ringworm lesions having disappeared, sometimes much longer.
This is to prevent the recurrence of more lesions developing from any remaining spores.