Ringworm (also known as feline dermatophytosis) is one of the most common dermatologic disorders that affect felines.
Contrary to popular (and logical) belief, despite having “worms” in the name, the affliction actually has nothing to do with worms. Instead, it’s named after a ring-shaped rash that often appear on an infected human or animal’s skin.
It involves fungi called dermatophytes, microscopic organisms that come from the soil but can prosper as parasites outside of their natural environment. Once the fungi contact a cat’s body, it can survive by digesting keratin, the protein that is the main structure of hair and nails. As a result, the microscopic fungi rapidly reproduce and create millions of spores (single-cell reproductive bodies) capable of becoming new microorganisms.
When the fungus comes into contact with a cat’s tissue (hair, skin, and/or nails), several things may occur to it, including:
- Being removed during the self-grooming process,
- “Losing out” in competition with stronger microorganisms and eventually disappear,
- Establishing a home on the skin without a reaction, or
- Settling in the cat’s skin and cause ringworm
While ringworm can resolve on its own, the entire process can take nine months to a year, during which your infected cat will probably lose hair—leaving it at an increased risk of skin wounds and infection. It’s also important to note that it is zoonotic, meaning it can be passed to humans* and any other animal** in your home.
Continue reading our Webster, TX, animal hospital‘s article to find out the signs of cat ringworm.
How Infection Occurs
A cat can become infected with ringworm if it has contact with an infected animal, visits a grooming or boarding facility where spores are present, touches furniture, carpet, or other surfaces containing spores, or curls up on infected bedding.
Signs Your Cat has Ringworm
There are nine clear and common signs of ringworm. They include:
- Circular areas of hair loss
- Broken and stubbly hair
- Scaling or crusting on the skin
- Alterations in the color of hair or skin
- Reddish rashes in the formation of a ring
- Inflamed areas of skin (often hot to the touch)
- Excessive grooming
- Infected claws or nail beds (which can develop a scaly base and eventually become deformed)
- Dandruff (which often looks like cigarette ashes and is sometimes only found deep in a cat’s coat)
If your cat is demonstrating any of these signs, or other questionable changes in appearance and behavior, you should bring them to a vet as soon as possible.
Please note that if your cat has longer hair, the signs may be harder to detect, so the occasional review and analysis of their body may be necessary to prevent it from having longer side effects from the disease and infecting you, your family, your friends, and other animals.
If ringworm is suspected, a veterinarian will test a cat to exclude other dermatologic conditions that the infection may resemble (such as dry skin or flea allergy). To accomplish this and diagnose ringworm, a vet may examine the cat’s coat with an instrument called a Wood’s lamp. It uses ultraviolet light that reflects a yellowish-green color on fungus-coated skin. However, not all skin infected with ringworm will glow. So, a hair sample or skin scraping may need to be examined microscopically for specific spores or other fungal characteristics.
There are also culture tests that can be done, which encourage spores to grow for further analysis. This is said to be the most reliable test, but the results can take up to three weeks to get back.
It’s also impossible for your vet to perform a test to definitively confirm the absence of ringworm, and only the presence of it can be detected.
After ringworm is diagnosed, a treatment plan will be established and will usually involve the application of topical antifungal medications (creams or sprays) to the infected areas and a systemic medication (drugs that are used to treat conditions that affect specific systems or the whole body). And if open lesions are on your cat’s skin, a complete body rinse or dip may be used.
Overall, ringworm treatment usually requires repetitive therapies for at least six weeks. However, some cases take longer.
It is not recommended that owners stop treatment once they notice some of the symptoms relieving (usually after four weeks) because ringworm is likely to return (and your cat will still be contagious to humans and animals) if not treated thoroughly.
Your vet will likely also recommend that you use a diluted bleach solution or another method to sanitize the surfaces and fabrics in your home, along with your cat’s toys, brushes, combs, food bowls, beds, etc. This cleaning is essential because spores can remain dormant for up to 18 months.
If you bring a new cat into your home, it’s sometimes a good idea to have a quarantine period for the new addition, along with a culture for ringworm (especially if the new cat has signs of an unhealthy coat or skin).
On the chance that you know your cat was exposed to ringworm spores, it might be a good idea to discuss the use of prophylactic treatment (usually oral medications) for up to two weeks to prevent the disease from occurring.
Our Webster, TX, Animal Hospital Offers Cat Ringworm Testing and Treatment
Although in healthy cats, ringworm can go away on its own, but the entire process is often long and can only increase your cat’s pain, discomfort, risk for infection, etc. Plus, before a feline is completely eradicated from the disease, it can pass it onto humans and other animals. So, it’s likely in your best interest to get any animal you suspect may have ringworm to the vet for diagnosis and a treatment plan.
*- Young children, older adults, and any person with a weakened immune system are at the highest risk of getting ringworm. Healthy adults are usually resistant to it unless they have open lesions somewhere on their skin. Infected humans may develop an itchy, circular rash with clearer skin in the middle.
**- It is uncommon for adult dogs to develop ringworm (unless there is a highly suggestive history—like known recent exposure or location in an endemic area.