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Ringworm in Cats

cat with ringworm
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Severity: i Medium
Life stage: All
  • Ringworm is a fungal infection that affects cats.
  • It is highly contagious and can be passed between pets and to humans.
  • Ringworm often causes a circular, itchy rash on the skin of cats.
  • Treatment typically involves topical antifungal medications as well as oral medications.
  • Keeping your home clean can help prevent the spread of ringworm.

Ringworm is one of the most frequently occurring skin disorders found in cats, but it’s actually not a worm at all. 

Because ringworm is highly contagious, it’s important to identify and treat ringworm quickly to keep the pets and people in your household healthy. 

What is Ringworm?

Ringworm, also called feline dermatophytosis, is a fungal infection, named for its circular ring-like appearance, that resembles a coiled-up worm. 

Can You Get Ringworm From Cats?

People and other pets can contract ringworm from infected cats. It is zoonotic, which means it can be transmitted to people and other animals. Elderly people, children, or anyone with immune problems have a higher risk of contracting the infection.

Symptoms of Ringworm in Cats

cat showing symptoms of ringworm

Ringworm often causes a circular, itchy rash on the skin of cats, but a ringworm infection can manifest in many ways. 

Some symptoms of ringworm in cats include:

  • Dandruff-like scaling of the skin
  • Excessive itching and scratching
  • Red lesions on the head, chest, legs, or back
  • Skin crusts
  • Thickened or inflamed skin
  • Infection of the nail beds  

If you notice any suspicious areas of hair loss, redness, itching, or lesions on your cat, have them checked out immediately. 

How Do Cats Get Ringworm?

Microscopic fungi organisms that live in the soil cause ringworm. Cats contract the fungus from the soil outside, other infected animals, or humans.  

As soon as the ringworm spores are comfortable and set up in a host’s body, the fungi live by digesting keratin, which is a protein in hair and nails. As they consume the keratin, they reproduce quickly, generating spores.  

The spores may cause dermatitis, which is inflammation of the skin. This results in the classic red, circular rash normally associated with ringworm. It can be found on your cat, other animals in the household, or on yourself or other people in the household.  

But not all spores cause a ringworm infection. Self-grooming cats can brush off fungal spores. While this is the best-case scenario for your cat, this could be bad for pet owners. The spores may set up shop on your skin and cause a ringworm infection on you.  

Another scenario is that the spores may exist on the cat’s skin and not cause any adverse reactions. Again, this can be detrimental to humans or other pets in the house who may become unknowingly infected from a cat that looks normal.

Diagnosing Ringworm in Cats

Veterinarian scanning cat for ringworm

Your veterinarian will need to perform a few diagnostics to confirm or rule out ringworm. 

First, a physical examination is necessary to assess your cat’s overall health. Their general health is an important indicator, as there are other diseases that can cause secondary skin issues, such as thyroid disease or allergies.  

Ringworm may be diagnosed by evaluation with an ultraviolet lamp, where some species of ringworm will glow with a yellowish-green color. The hairs that light up are then examined under a microscope for specific spores and other fungal characteristics.  

Performing a fungal culture of hairs and analyzing scrapings from the affected areas is the most accurate method of diagnosing ringworm in cats. Be aware that it can take up to three weeks to get the results.  

How to Treat Ringworm in Cats

If your veterinarian diagnoses your cat with ringworm, there are a few treatments that may be prescribed.  

Ringworm treatment may involve topical antifungal medications as well as oral medications. You may need to apply prescription cream or lotion to any lesions on your cat’s skin. If this is the recommended treatment method, make sure to wear gloves to avoid the spread of spores or infection of your own skin. If the ringworm lesions are present on many areas of a cat’s skin, a full-body rinse or dip or oral medication may be used. 

Common medications used to treat ringworm in cats include:

  • Itraconazole (oral antifungal medicine)
  • Fluconazole (oral antifungal medicine)
  • Terbinafine (oral antifungal medicine)
  • Lime sulfur dips
  • Miconazole shampoos
  • Climbazole mousse

It will take approximately six weeks of repeated treatments to completely cure a feline ringworm infection. In some instances, it may take longer, and your veterinarian may recommend shaving your cat. Do not stop treatment unless it is recommended by your veterinarian, as cutting treatment short can result in a recurrence of the fungus.  

If left untreated, ringworm in an otherwise healthy cat may resolve on its own. But it may take nine months to a year to do so, putting other people and pets in your household at risk for infection.  

Treating cat ringworm

Ringworm Precautions in Your Home

During treatment, it is also important to keep your home and your cat’s environment clean. 

You may want to restrict your infected cat to easy-to-clean rooms, such as a bathroom. A solution of chlorine bleach and water kills fungal spores. The recommended dilution is one pint of chlorine bleach (500 ml) in a gallon of water (4 liters).  

Infected pets remain contagious for about three weeks, even during treatment. The ringworm may last longer and remain contagious for an extended period of time if only minimal measures are taken or if you do not follow your veterinarian’s prescribed treatment plan. 

Minimizing exposure to other dogs or cats and to your family members is recommended during this period.  

Cost of Ringworm Treatment in Cats

If the ringworm infection is contained to only a few lesions, cost of treatment may come in under $100 for an initial veterinary examination and topical ointments or prescription antifungal medications. 

But more serious cases of ringworm can be much for difficult to treat and may cost upwards of $500 for an examination, diagnostics, and long-term treatment plans. No matter the cost, treating the ringworm appropriately is worth the safety of your cat and family.  

Prevention of Ringworm in Cats

How to prevent ringworm

Besides keeping your cat away from other pets or people infected with ringworm, there is not much you can do to prevent ringworm in cats. However, there are a number of other things you can do to prevent your cat, your family, and you from catching the infection. 

Keeping your home and your pet’s areas clean are essential steps in preventing the spread of ringworm. Regularly wash your cat’s bedding and blankets in the clothes washer on sanitary cycle and disinfect grooming materials after use to kill spores. Keep the environment clean by vacuuming carpets, furniture, and areas of the house that your cat frequents. Disinfect all areas of the house that your cat and other pets use frequently.  

Hopefully, with a clean, happy, healthy house, and a bit of luck, you and your cat will never experience a ringworm infection.