How Can I Tell If My Cat Has a Ringworm?
One of the most important things to understand about ringworm is that it is caused by a fungus, not a parasite or worm. Ringworm is a fungal skin infection named after the ring-shaped rash that commonly occurs on the skin of an infected person or animal. In cats, most ringworm infections are caused by the fungus known as Microsporum canis.
Ringworm is contagious and can spread easily, but it is treatable. While any cat could potentially contract ringworm, kittens and long-haired cats are the most susceptible. If your cat is struggling with hair loss, round sores on its skin, or excessive grooming, ringworm could be the cause.
Below, we’ll go over what to look out for if you think your cat might have ringworm.
How Does Ringworm Spread in Cats?
Ringworm is caused by a fungus that thrives by eating dead skin, hair, and nail tissue. Once the fungus comes into contact with a human or an animal, it takes up residence on the top layer of the skin, hair, or nails. It usually takes 1-2 weeks after initial contact before symptoms of the infection begin to appear.
Cats can contract ringworm if they have had direct contact with an infected animal, person, object, or surface. The same applies to humans; if you touch the infective spores on the animal itself or on an item where spores were spread, you could contract ringworm yourself.
The spores can live on objects and surfaces for up to two years, which can make it difficult to identify the source of the infection and prevent spreading. If you believe your cat might have contracted ringworm, it is a possibility that the infection could spread to people or other animals in your home.
Healthy humans with strong immune systems are less likely to contract ringworm, and sanitizing the surfaces and objects in your home will help reduce the potential spread of the infection.
Signs of Ringworm in Cats
Some cats who have ringworm may be asymptomatic. There are a few reasons as to why this is.
First, if the initial contraction of the fungus occurred within the last two weeks, it could be too early in the infection process for symptoms to appear.
Second, if a cat with long hair is infected, there may be too much hair to easily see the common symptoms of hair loss and round sores on the skin.
Third, some cats are asymptomatic carriers, which means that they may not ever show symptoms of the infection, even though they do have ringworm and can still spread it to others.
Hair Loss, Damage, or Discoloration
Since the fungi that cause ringworm feed on dead hair, skin, and nail tissues, hair loss is a major warning sign of ringworm in cats. You may find small, medium, or large bald patches on your cat. The bald patches may be circular and reveal round sores on the skin.
Your cat may also show symptoms of hair damage; their once healthy, shiny coat may have patches of weakened or broken hair. Their hair may appear stubbly or discolored. In an animal infected with ringworm, the fungal spores can move from the skin surface into the hair shafts, leading to hair loss, damage, and discoloration.
A common sign of ringworm is skin inflammation. This can manifest in a few different ways. Your cat may have scaly, flaky skin on its head, ears, tail, and feet. The skin will appear dry, flaky, or crusty. Because of this, dandruff is a related symptom. If you notice your cat has a lot of dandruff in their fur or falling off of their bodies when scratching or grooming, you may want to examine their skin for patches of dry, scaly skin.
Your cat’s skin may also have red sores, red bumps, or discoloration. Ringworm is commonly identified by the circular red sores it causes on the skin. This can be more difficult to see in cats than humans since cats are completely covered in fur. Comb through your cat’s fur to see if you can find any areas of skin that are reddened, show new sores, bumps, or inflammation.
Cats can have dry, scaly skin patches, round, red sores on the skin, or both.
Less commonly, ringworm can target the claws and nail beds of a cat. Check your cat’s claws to see if they are brittle, damaged, pitted, or scaly at the base.
Given that ringworm causes damage to the hair, skin, and nail tissues, it is likely that these areas will become itchy or painful. This can lead your cat to groom excessively, typically in one or more areas where the infection is most apparent.
Treating Ringworm in Cats
A veterinarian will need to diagnose your cat with ringworm before treatment can begin. They may use UV light to try to identify fungal spores in your cat’s hair. They also may take a hair or skin sample or conduct a culture test.
Once ringworm has been determined as the cause of the infection, you can begin treating your cat. Usually, this entails a combination of topical, oral, and environmental treatment.
Topical and Oral Medication
The extent of the topical treatment will depend on the severity of the infection. In small-scale infections, antifungal creams may be used as a spot treatment on the patches of afflicted skin. In more advanced infections, your cat’s coat may need trimming, and your cat may need to be bathed with an antifungal shampoo. Follow the advice of your veterinarian to determine if trimming or shampooing is necessary.
Antifungal medication can also be administered through oral medication. This is known as “systemic medication” and is an important component of a ringworm treatment plan.
Disinfect or remove any object or surface that has been touched by your infected cat. Since ringworm can live on objects and surfaces for up to two years, decontaminating your home is essential for preventing the spread of ringworm.
Thoroughly wash bedding, blankets, and any cloth material that your cat may have slept on or rubbed on. Vacuum all furniture, surfaces, and floors. Wipe down hard surfaces and floors with cleaner and consider deep cleaning your carpets.
It is a good idea to keep your cat in one room or one area of the house while healing. This can prevent reinfection or spread.
If your cat is healthy and has a strong immune system, the ringworm infection could resolve on its own over time without treatment.
However, this process can take up to a year, and that means that there would be a high potential for the fungal spores to spread in your home and yard during the time that it takes your cat to heal.
Your cat will likely be highly uncomfortable during that time as well, struggling with hair loss and skin inflammation. By providing treatment for your cat, you can help your cat feel better and limit the spread of the infection.
Healing and Preventing Ringworms in Cats
After treatment has begun, expect your cat to need at least 4-6 weeks of continuous treatment to heal. Even with ongoing treatment, the infection is still contagious for that period of time. The best thing you can do is follow the advice of your veterinarian and continue the full course of treatment. If treatment is stopped too early, reinfection may occur.
It is important to maintain regular decontamination around your home during the next 4-6 weeks as well, since regular cleaning and decontamination will help eradicate the ringworm fungus from your home for good.
When in Doubt, Contact Your Vet
Since not all of us are blessed with veterinary medicine degrees, there are plenty of times where we simply don’t know what’s going on with our pets. At Parkway Veterinary Emergency Clinic, we’re here for you and your pets in their times of need.
If you have any questions about the health of your pet, don’t hesitate to call us at (863) 665-3199!
At Parkway Veterinary Emergency Clinic, our team consists of experienced veterinarians and veterinary professionals dedicated to providing exceptional after-hours emergency vet care to the pet community of Lakeland.