Ringworm is rightly a concern for all pet owners. Perhaps you’re establishing a method of protecting your pet, or already have an infected cat. Here’s what you should know about it:
Causes of the infection
Ringworm is the layman’s term given to fungal infections that are on the superficial layers of the fur, skin and nails. These infections affect humans and pets alike, and are characterized by the classic red “ring” that marks the boundary of the infection. In many cases it is located on the head, ears, and other parts of the face.
This is not caused by a worm, neither does it always present in a ring shape. The infections are caused by a group of fungi called dermatophytes.
The medical term for the infection is dermatophytosis.
The specific dermatophyte called Microsporum canis, which causes nearly all of the ringworm infection affecting cats. It also affects humans and dogs. Another species, Trichophyton mentagrophytes, also causes the infections in felines as well as their human owners.
Identifying Ringworm Infections in Cats
The ringworm lesions on cats may be difficult to detect. However, as the fungi continue to feed on the keratin that’s on the skin, fur and nails, scales of “cigarette ash” within the coat will develop.
Pets may also have patches of hair loss that you notice while grooming them. Here, the fungi get to the hair shafts, which results in the infected hair becoming increasingly fragile.
The skin lesions in cats are usually on the head, back ridge, the chest and also the forelegs. You should note that a cat can have ringworm and not scratch itself. Onychomycosis is the result of infected claws.
The cats claws start becoming rough and pitted, with a characteristic scaly base. Without treatment, it is likely that deformity of the paws will occur.
There are scenarios where cats become “asymptomatic carriers”- especially the longhaired cats. Here, the clinical signs of ringworms including hair loss are not visible. However, the cats retains the ability to infect other pets.
The duration between exposure to the fungi and the skin lesions developing can be anywhere between 7-14 days. In some cases, it can take 21 days.
The coat and skin of the pet can be examined in a dark room using a Wood’s lamp, which is a specialized ultraviolet lamp. Here, most of the cat ringworm infections caused by the Microsporum canis will have a yellowish-green fluorescence.
Since not all cases species of dermatophytes will present this way, additional diagnostics will still be carried out. Note that there are skin ointments that may have been applied onto the pet which will fluoresce, thus leading to a false positive.
A fungal culture carried out in a lab is the most accurate mode of diagnosis. Samples of hair and skin are taken, and results confirmed in a few days. However, if the fungi take long to grow, then a positive culture result may take up to 4 weeks to confirm.
There are multiple reasons why Kitty may have areas of hair loss, the vet may call for additional testing to rule them out before making the ringworm diagnosis.
Treating Cat Ringworms
This is necessary for the sake of the pet’s health, and to reduce the chances of the infection spreading to pets and their owners—especially with kids who enjoy playing and rolling around with the furry kitty, and individuals with immune system weaknesses. There are two main ways to treat the infections, which can be carried out separately or as a combination:
Creams, anti fungal shampoo or ointments can be utilized. This process can stretch out from several weeks to a couple of months. Simply apply the topical antifungal treatment to the sections of the skin that have been affected by the ringworm.
Shaving of small affected areas of hair can help in cases where there are only one or two infected areas. If the infection is more generalized, or for those cases where you have a long haired cat breed, then the vet may recommend all the cat’s hair to be clipped.
In addition to bathing Kitty using medicated shampoo according to a set schedule. Remember to carefully dispose of the clipped infected hairs since they will contain microscopic ringworm spores. Infection can occur for household members and pets via contact with the spores.
This involves administering anti-fungal drugs to the cat by mouth. Effective treatment is essential in most cases of infection. Different drugs can be recommended by the vet, with the most popular being griseofulvin.
Itraconazole or terbinafine are newer options that are increasingly being administered. This is due to the reduction in side effects. The treatment may take six weeks. Stopping the oral therapy too soon can result in the skin disease recurring.
For the ringworm treatment to be effective, the environmental contamination— which includes the fungal spores, must be treated as well. For this, you can sanitize the surrounding surfaces, especially those that Kitty has been in contact with. Use a bleach-based solution. It’s also worth looking at antifungal medications to deal with skin and hair issues.
If you enjoyed this article, you will probably also be interested in our in-depth article about other types of worms in cats and how to protect your cat against them.