Ringworm is the most common skin condition in cats, particularly in kittens under a year old simply because their immune system defences aren’t as developed. It’s an unpleasant condition that can affect your cat’s claws and hair, as well as his skin, and it’s important to catch early and treat to avoid the disease spreading to others in your household. So what exactly is ringworm, and what should you do if your cat gets it?
What is Ringworm?
Contrary to what you’d believe from the name, ringworm is actually a fungal skin condition, not a wormlike parasite. The fungi, called dermatophytes, are extremely resilient, and they can survive for over a year without actually being on an animal. It’s a highly contagious skin complaint and it can spread quickly to other pets, and even humans, if you’re not vigilant.
Ringworm can be passed on either directly from an infected animal, or by exposure to a contaminated environment e.g. where ringworm spores or infected hairs are on things such as grooming tools or bedding. Contamination can be a real problem in environments where there a multiple cats living together, such as shelters and catteries.
How Can I Tell if My Cat Has Ringworm?
The most common places for a ringworm infection in cats is on their face, ears, feet or legs, and it will usually look like circular hairless lesions on the skin, which may appear red, scaly and inflamed.
If you suspect your cat has ringworm, it’s important to take him to the vet as soon as possible. Your vet will examine him with a Wood’s ultraviolet lamp, and usually take samples of the affected areas of skin to conclusively test for ringworm. If you have a number of cats, then each one should be tested, even if they’re not all showing the signs. Even if they don’t appear infected, they’ll be likely to be carrying ringworm spores that can be spread around your home, family and to other pets. No matter how hard it is, you should quarantine the affected cat until all your cats’ test results are back, just to be on the safe side.
Treating Ringworm in Cats
Once your vet has diagnosed ringworm, it’s usually treated with oral antifungal medication, regular bathing or antifungal ointment applied directly to the affected areas. Your vet might even prescribe a combination of topical and oral medication, depending on your cat’s overall health and the severity of the infection. If your vet gives you the treatment to take home with you, make sure that you wear gloves when applying ointment directly to your cat’s skin to avoid catching the ringworm yourself. If you suspect you’ve caught the same ringworm infection, a quick trip to your doctor is in order for treatment (usually an antifungal ointment or tablet in more severe cases).
Aside from treating your cat, or cats, you need to make sure that you decontaminate the environment by meticulously cleaning the house to get rid of any ringworm spores that might be around. This includes vacuuming thoroughly to get rid of any hair and skin that could have the spores in, and disinfecting absolutely anything that your cat will have come into contact with, such as bedding, grooming equipment, dishes and toys.
Although ringworm is an uncomfortable condition for your cat, it’s unlikely to cause any serious medical problems once treated. The hardest part is removing all traces of the ringworm spores from your cat and the environment to ensure it doesn’t return.
Have you had experience with treating ringworm in cats? Please share your experiences and tips below…
Image: Lal Beral via Flickr