How to Identify Ringworm in Cats

Cat at the veterinarian

As a cat owner, ringworm is one of those words you don't want to hear when visiting the vet. Ringworm in cats is a zoonotic fungal skin condition that's highly contagious and can spread to other animals. In addition, it can be passed to humans by infected animals. That's why it's so important to get your cat to the vet as soon as you see any signs or symptoms of ringworm.

What is Ringworm? 

Ringworm affects the skin, causing a ring-shaped rash and, in most cases, severe itching. Although the name suggests worms cause this condition, it actually has nothing to do with them. Instead, it's caused by fungi called dermatophytes, which explains its medical name: dermatophytosis.

When a cat is infected with ringworm, it feeds on keratin in the fur, skin and nails. The condition results in an itchy, sometimes painful rash on the skin that appears as ring-like lesions. Although these lesions can appear anywhere on a cat's body, they're most commonly found on the back, ears, head and front legs.

Remember, ringworm is incredibly contagious. It spreads easily between cats and other animals, and it's also zoonotic, meaning that it's possible to spread ringworm from cats to humans. 

How Ringworm Spreads

Most often, ringworm is contracted via direct contact. That means if your cat cuddles or plays with another pet and one of the animals is infected, there's a good chance of it spreading. In addition to direct contact, this skin condition can also be spread via fungal spores that remain on hair and skin after it's been shed, which can quickly cause it to spread to other pets. Unfortunately, these means of contraction can also affect human family members, causing an uncomfortable skin rash. 

Ringworm is more often found in kittens under one year old due to their underdeveloped immune systems. Additionally, long-haired cats are often more susceptible due to long fur that tends to trap fungi.

Ringworm in Cats: Symptoms and Signs

Ringworm in cats is often hard to identify. In some cases, your cat may show no signs at all, and unfortunately, it can be impossible to detect the condition until it's already passed onto a human family member. When symptoms do occur, they typically include some or all of the following: 

  • Red and crusty patches of skin that appear to be painful or itchy
  • Ring-shaped lesions on your cat's skin
  • Dried skin/dandruff appearing in your cat's fur
  • Hair loss
  • Circular patches of thickened skin

Although these symptoms are typical of ringworm, it's important to visit your vet to confirm the diagnosis. Other skin conditions or illnesses can cause similar symptoms in some cases, and a correct diagnosis is vital before starting ringworm treatment for cats.

Diagnosing Your Cat's Ringworm 

As mentioned earlier, only a licensed vet can make an accurate ringworm diagnosis for your cat. When you take your cat in to be checked, you can expect the vet to conduct at least one diagnostic test, but in some cases, your cat may need to undergo more than one test to confirm that they are ringworm positive. Testing methods include: 

  • Using a UV lamp to check your cat's skin for fluorescence
  • Analyzing a fur sample under a microscope
  • Blood testing
  • Sending fur and dander samples for laboratory testing

Typically, testing your cat's fur in a laboratory is the best way to obtain an accurate ringworm diagnosis. However, if your cat is suffering and your vet is eager to begin treatment, they may use quicker methods to check for ringworm so that treatment can be started right away.

Ringworm Treatment For Cats

Treating your cat's ringworm promptly is important — especially when it comes to preventing spread to other pets and household members. In most cases, your vet will prescribe antifungal medications along with an antifungal shampoo to quickly eradicate the ringworm. As treatment begins, you should notice that any red-coloured lesions should begin to diminish and the condition should clear up rather quickly. Regardless of any noticeable improvement in your cat's condition, it's important to continue any prescribed treatment methods for as long as your vet has requested to ensure the ringworm is completely cleared up. 

In addition to prescription treatments, your vet may suggest secluding your cat in a separate space until the ringworm is gone to prevent spreading it throughout your home. Additionally, long-haired cats may need to have their fur clipped so that any antifungal shampoo can easily penetrate the rash. If you have other pets in the home, your vet may suggest treating them as a precautionary measure but be careful to obtain your vet's authorization before offering treatment to any other pets to avoid providing them with an unsafe dosage of ringworm medication.

Decontaminating Your Home

On top of eradicating the ringworm on your pet's body, you'll need to carefully clean your home to remove any fungal spores that have been shed from their skin and fur. To do this, you will need to vacuum floors and furniture and thoroughly mop any hard flooring. Additionally, bedding, blankets and towels should be washed, as well as any toys or other items your pet may have come into contact with. Cat toys and other items belonging to your pet that can't be disinfected properly should be replaced to reduce the risk of the infection spreading further, as fungal spores can remain alive on common household items for up to 18 months. 

The good news about ringworm in cats is that it's relatively easy to treat, and cats usually recover quickly. If you notice your cat exhibiting symptoms of ringworm, be sure to seek treatment from a licensed vet right away.

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