Ringworm in Cats

Ringworm Treatment for Cats

Ringworm in cats (dermatophytosis) is a common occurrence. It can even be found in indoor cats. Although the condition is called ringworm, there are no actual worms as with heartworms. Instead, cat ringworm is a very itchy fungal infection that affects the top layer of a feline’s skin.

Perhaps one of the closest comparisons to ringworm is athlete’s foot in humans. The fungi that bring about this skin condition are known as dermatophytes. The fungus feeds on keratin found in a feline’s upper layer of skin, nails, and hair.

Fortunately, this highly contagious infection does not pose any danger to a cat’s life. It is easily treatable, and, with the correct care and attention, it is possible to prevent a feline from catching it in the first place.

Ringworm treatment for cats can either be topical (applied to the skin) or systemic (given in liquid form). Generally, a combination of both treatment options will be used.

ringworm cat - what does ringworm look like on a cat
Vet examining kitten for ringworm.

Ringworm in Cats Symptoms

The symptoms of ringworm in cats vary depending on its severity. The incubation period for the infection can be anywhere between two to three weeks. However, there are certain things that owners should look for if they suspect their pet has this skin condition. These include:

  • Circular patches of hair loss on the legs or head, particularly around the ears
  • Red crusty or scaly sore patches on the cat’s skin

These small circles on the skin can often be quite small and difficult to spot. Hairs in the surrounding area may also be broken. The signs of ringworm can often be confused with indicators of a flea allergy. Ringworm may also look very similar to feline acne or symmetrical alopecia. In all cases, it is always best to seek advice from a vet.

ringworm from cats to humans - ringworm on cats ear
Ringworm often appears on a cat’s ears.

How Is Ringworm Diagnosed?

Although the symptoms of ringworm may be present, it is always important for the vet to rule out the possibility of other diseases before offering a treatment plan. To achieve the correct diagnosis, the vet will use an ultraviolet Wood’s lamp. When ultraviolet light is shone onto the infected area, the ringworm will glow a fluorescent apple-green color.

This quick test is only helpful to a certain degree as only half of all ringworm infections will show up in this way. It is also possible that contaminants on a feline’s skin may also cause a false positive diagnosis.

Further tests will always be needed. These will include taking a scraping of the skin and looking at it under a microscope. It is possible for the vet to spot spores on the cat’s skin in this manner.

Perhaps the most reliable test though is to get fungal cultures taken from a feline’s skin and have them analyzed in a laboratory. Although this is the best way to confirm a case of ringworm, it can take up to three weeks for the results to come back.

ringworm in cats symptoms - pictures of ringworm in cats

How Do Cats Get Ringworm?

So, what causes ringworm in cats? If a feline has been in an environment where ringworm is present or has been around other felines with the condition, it is highly likely they will pick it up when fungal spores stick to the cat’s skin. If the skin is already damaged in any way, it will allow the infection to work quicker.

Long-haired cats and kittens are amongst the most likely to catch ringworm. With younger cats, this is because they will not have strong immune systems to resist the infection, whereas long-haired felines are more susceptible because of inefficient grooming.

Is Ringworm in Cats Contagious?

When multiple felines are present in the home, it is important to be aware that ringworm is highly contagious. If one cat has ringworm, it is very likely that the infection will be passed on to other felines that they come into contact with.

Therefore, it is important for all felines that live in a household to be tested and treated for ringworm, even if just one cat has visible signs. By treating all felines in the home, those that may not have developed the condition yet will build up immunity.

When a cat sheds skin and hair, spores from the infection can be easily spread around the home. These spores can then find their way onto food bowls, furniture, and carpets. It is reported that the infection can remain dormant around a home for up to 18 months.

Owners should also be mindful that any brushes or combs used to groom a cat may also have traces of the infection and should be disinfected.

cat ringworm - how to treat ringworm in cats

Many people will be concerned if the condition is spotted on their pet and will often ask “can cats give humans ringworm?” Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Owners should be aware that because ringworm is a zoonotic disease, it can be passed to humans and dogs.

Coming into contact with a feline that has ringworm does not automatically mean that the condition will have been passed on. People that are generally healthy will often be able to easily fight the infection. However, elderly people, children, and adults with weaker immune systems can easily be affected.

How to Treat Ringworm in Cats

Treatment for ringworm in cats is either through systemic antifungal drugs such as Itraconazole, Griseofulvin, Terbinafine, or Fluconazole. These are administered as a liquid, and a course usually lasts for approximately six weeks. Topical antifungal drugs such as Miconazole, as well as shampoos and dips, may also be used.

The best ringworm treatment for cats would be to use a combination of both systemic and topical options. In addition to treating the ringworm, a thorough cleaning of the house will be needed to ensure that all spores have been removed.

ringworm treatment for cats - ringworm treatment for cats
Vet applying topical medication to cat with ringworm on paws.

Cat Ringworm Prevention

Unfortunately, prevention may not always be possible. That said, owners should do their best to check a new pet before bringing it into the home to ensure it carries no signs of ringworm. Also, whenever possible, try to limit a feline’s exposure to other animals outside of the household. Finally, after handling a cat, owners are advised to wash their hands to reduce the risk of the infection spreading to humans.

Looking to adopt a cat? Check out our breed page to learn about different cat breeds, such as the Maine Coon, Bengal, Devon Rex, and Bombay cat. Another source of information is our article on the most popular cat breeds.

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