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Ringworm in Cats: Symptoms and Treatments
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Ringworm in Cats: Symptoms and Treatments

Critter Culture Staff

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Ringworm is a common yet often misunderstood skin condition in cats. Contrary to what its name suggests, it has nothing to do with worms but is a fungal infection. This condition is characterized by distinct ring-shaped, red, and irritated skin rashes. While ringworm might resolve without intervention, seeking treatment is advisable to prevent spread and discomfort. It's important for cat owners to recognize this condition early to ensure prompt and effective treatment.

1

What is ringworm?

Tabby cat at the vet

Ringworm in cats is a fungal infection of the skin caused by dermatophytes, mold-like fungi. The primary species causing this in cats is Microsporum canis. These fungi feed on keratin, a structural protein in skin, hair, and nails, and release numerous spores. These spores can spread throughout the environment, contaminating surfaces like toys and furniture. Understanding the nature of this fungus is key in preventing its spread and treating it effectively.

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2

How do cats get ringworm?

two cats lying on sofa with sheepskin at home in winter

Cats contract ringworm through contact with contaminated environments or directly from infected animals. The spores responsible for ringworm can remain inactive for up to 18 months on various surfaces. In multi-cat households, if one cat is infected, others are likely exposed. However, not all exposure leads to infection, as cats' grooming habits or other bacteria can counteract the spores. It's crucial to monitor all pets in a household if one is diagnosed with ringworm.

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3

What increases my cat's risk of getting ringworm?

The kitten is playing with a ball

Certain cats are more susceptible to ringworm, including kittens, elderly cats, and long-haired breeds. This increased risk is often due to less effective grooming habits in these groups. Long hair, particularly when matted, can trap spores more easily, increasing the likelihood of infection. Regular grooming and maintaining a clean environment can help reduce these risks.

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4

How can you tell if your cat has ringworm?

Person showing bald spot on cat's ears caused by a ringworm infection

Ringworm typically presents as patchy hair loss in circular patterns, often seen on the head, ears, and legs. It can also manifest as scaly, crusty skin and changes in skin or hair color. Some cats, however, may not show any visible symptoms. Since ringworm can look similar to other skin conditions, professional diagnosis is crucial. Early detection and treatment are vital for a quick recovery.

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5

How is ringworm diagnosed?

A veterinarian and cat are indoors in the vet's office. The vet is holding the cat in her arms. FatCamera / Getty Images

Veterinarians use a Wood’s lamp, a special ultraviolet light, to diagnose ringworm, as it makes certain fungi glow. Alternatively, they examine hair and skin samples under a microscope. While the Wood’s lamp offers a quicker diagnosis, laboratory testing of samples is more accurate but takes longer, sometimes up to four weeks. Accurate diagnosis is essential for effective treatment.

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6

Can ringworm spread to other animals and people?

Shot of a young woman enjoying a cuddle with her cat mapodile / Getty Images

Ringworm is highly contagious and can easily spread to other pets and humans. Adults generally have resistance to the fungus, but it can infect through skin abrasions. Those at higher risk include the elderly, children, and individuals with compromised immune systems, who are more susceptible to infection. Preventative measures and hygiene are key in controlling its spread.

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7

Does ringworm require treatment?

Female veterinarian examining a cat Peter M. Fisher / Getty Images

Left untreated, a cat's immune system might eventually clear ringworm in a few months. However, due to its highly contagious nature, seeking veterinary treatment is recommended. Treatment typically involves a combination of oral anti-fungal medications and topical applications, such as medicated shampoos or ointments. In severe cases, vets may recommend a full-body antifungal dip. Timely treatment not only helps the infected cat but also prevents the spread to other animals and humans.

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8

How long does treatment last?

young woman professional veterinarian strokes a big gray cat on table in veterinary clinic. Kateryna Kukota / Getty Images

The duration of ringworm treatment is usually at least six weeks. During this period, vets conduct tests to monitor the presence of fungal spores. If two consecutive tests return negative, the treatment is considered successful. It's important to treat all pets in the household to prevent re-infection. Consistent treatment is crucial for complete eradication of the fungus.

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9

What’s the best way to stop ringworm from spreading?

Portrait of orange ginger cat lying on sofa. simonkr / Getty Images

To prevent the spread of ringworm, isolate the infected cat from other pets. Use gloves when handling them to avoid direct contact. Proper treatment typically reduces the contagious period to about three weeks. However, incomplete or improper treatment can extend this period significantly. Regular cleaning and disinfection of the cat's environment are also essential in controlling the spread.

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10

How can fungus spores be eliminated?

Curious cat near the bucket and mop for cleaning the floor. Scene from home life. Tinted, selective focus, close-up Webkatrin001 / Getty Images

Regular cleaning is essential to remove ringworm spores from your home. Focus on areas your cat frequents, using a bleach solution for disinfection. This cleaning routine helps in reducing the risk of re-infection and controlling the spread of the fungus in your home. It's also advisable to wash and disinfect any bedding, toys, and grooming tools used by the infected cat.

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