How to Treat Ringworms in Cats

Cat with Ringworm

Ringworms is a worldwide spread skin disorder that can affect cats among other animals and humans. Luckily, this infection is not only highly treatable but also easily avoided with regular inspection and cat hygiene.

Here’s how to treat ringworms in cats. There are various approaches that you may have to consider to get rid of the infection. You may have to apply topical antifungal creams and use medical shampoos. Also, the vet might prescribe or recommend an oral antifungal (usually griseofulvin), and the sanitizing of all surfaces in contact continuously.

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If you want to know more about this disease as well as how to eliminate it, this article is for you. Keep on reading to learn more about the disease’s symptoms, causes, treatments, and more!

What are Ringworms?

“Ringworms” is the name of one of the most common skin diseases that affect cats. The disease forms a big, round, and a slightly raised lesion that is usually shaped like a ring.

This lesion marks the boundaries of the inflammation of the organism that is infected with the disease.

Ringworms may show up in various spots in the body of a cat. However, the majority of these cases will show up on the superficial layers of skin, nails, and hair.

Although the name of the disease has the word “worms” in it, the infection is actually caused by a specific type of fungi and not a worm.

However, this is not the only misleading part of the disease. The lesions caused due to the infection are not always in the shape of a ring!

The organisms responsible for the disease belong to a special group of fungi known as the “dermatophytes”, which is Latin for “attracted to skin”. For that reason, this disease is better known medically as “dermatophytosis”.

One thing you should know is that these dermatophytes can be very specific to the species they attack.

While a wide variety of dermatophytes can attack cats, a large majority of cat ringworm cases are produced by a specific species of dermatophytes that are known as “Microsporum canis”.

Another type of dermatophyte species that is responsible for the disease in cats is Trichophyton mentagrophytes. It is known for being zoonotic, which means they’re transmissible to both humans as well as other species of pets.

What Causes Ringworms in Cats

Fungal infections in general are known for being tricky to treat. So, in order to understand how to treat the disease, you first need to know how it can attack and cause the infection.

Ringworms are quite a contagious disease. Like many skin infections, the disease is mainly caused due to contact with the fungi or dermatophytes that cause it.

As the name suggests, these dermatophytes live on the skin and feed on the keratin layer that is found in the hair, nails, and skin of cats.

This contact can be due to directly touching the infected surface on another cat, or indirectly by coming in contact with contaminated items, belongings, or even surfaces.

The main mode of transmission of the fungi is through the spores, which can remain dormant for 1-1.5 years.

These spores are extremely small and can easily hide in cat belongings, such as their food bowl, bedding, carpets they walk on, brushes and combs they use, and toys they play with.

What Are the Symptoms of Ringworms on Cats?

Although the ringworms might be somewhat easy to detect in humans, it is quite the opposite when it comes to cats.

Of course, the most common symptom of ringworms is the presence of a lesion on the cat’s skin.

This lesion is usually a roundish thickened patch a few millimeters deep into the skin and has a darker outline, giving it a ring shape, though not necessarily in all cases.

In many cases, the infected part of the cat’s skin is accompanied by hair loss in the same area. The loss of hair is usually caused by the spores when they infect the hair shaft, which weakens the infected hairs and makes them quite fragile.

In some cases, these lesions might be too mild to even be detected from the first look because the hair might still cover it.

This problem is often noticed in long-haired breeds of cats. Unlike short-haired cats that will show spots of alopecia (hair loss), these cats might not show any clinical signs of infection without deep inspection.

These “asymptomatic” cats can then act as carriers that will infect other cats, animals, and humans. Meanwhile, their caregivers might not even know that they too are infected.

The patches are usually not itchy. However, when the infection spreads to the claws, it causes them to be severely deformed with rough pitting and a scaly base.

The cats usually bite on these nails, which is why noticeable nail-biting behaviors are usually symptoms of the disease.

How to Treat Ringworms in Cats

So, now that you know more about the disease, what can you do to treat this disease? Lucky for you, ringworm is usually a self-limiting disease, which means that it eventually goes away on its own for most cats.

But, since ringworms are a highly contagious disease that can actually spread to humans, including children, as well as other pets in the house, treatments are usually necessary.

These treatments also help in minimizing and controlling the spread of the infection. A treatment can also help the cat’s immune system get rid of the spores in a much shorter time, instead of taking several months.

There are various approaches to treating ringworms in cats, including topical treatment, systemic (oral) treatment, and elimination of the contamination.

However, the most effective method of treatment is by combining all these methods. Here is a brief overview of each one of these methods.

1. Topical Treatments

The first-line treatment for ringworms is usually topical therapy in the form of creams, medical shampoos, and ointments that are applied locally to the areas infected by ringworm.

Although a topical treatment does a pretty good job of eliminating the infection, it’s usually paired with oral antifungals to ensure complete eradication of the spores.

To make it easy for you to apply the topical medication, your vet will recommend that you shave the affected area. However, if the disease is widely spread through the cat’s body, you might want to clip all the cat’s hair.

The vet might also recommend you to fully shave the cat’s hair coat if the cat breed is long-haired to prevent the infection from spreading to other parts. This may be necessary even if the cat doesn’t show any symptoms.

The topical treatment usually includes an antifungal cream. The most common one for ringworms is miconazole.

This cream is sold over the counter but it’s necessary to consult the vet before applying it on your own.

Most vets will recommend that you apply the cream twice a day for a period that extends between several weeks to several months depending on the severity of the infection and the response to treatment.

Also, vets will advise you to medicated anti-fungal shampoos and bath your cat at least twice weekly

You might want to wear a protective glove while applying the cream to your cat’s skin, provided that your cat is not allergic to latex.

Also, make sure that you wash your hands and use bleach to sanitize all the items and surfaces that have come in contact with the infection during the application.

2. Systemic (Oral) Treatment

Oral antifungal treatments are extremely effective in the treatment of severe cases of ringworms. They also speed up the resolution time and limit the spread of the disease.

The most commonly used antifungal drug is griseofulvin. The drug is trusted to eradicate fungal infection in most cases.

However, there are new drugs that also perform quite well while having little to no side effects, such as itraconazole, ketoconazole, and terbinafine.

The medication is usually given once daily or weekly and the dosage might be adjusted depending on your vet’s prescription. The treatment usually lasts for at least 6 weeks but might extend to several months.

It’s extremely essential to continue using the treatment and never stop the medication before the recommended time even if the lesions disappear. This will help avoid recurrence and reappearance of the lesions.

Your vet might also recommend that all pets in the house get the same medication to avoid transmission and to treat asymptomatic carriers.

3. Cleaning the Surfaces and Eliminating the Spores

As previously mentioned, the hairs of an infected cat might contain multiple spores that can transmit the disease.

These hairs are then shed on the surfaces and transmitted to other pets and humans through touch and interaction.

Since these spores can survive for up to 18 months, make sure that you eradicate them as much as possible using antiseptic solutions, such as bleach diluted with water by a 1 to 10 ratio.

Are Ringworms Mistakenly Diagnosed?

Ringworms might look quite similar to different skin disorders that happen due to completely different reasons.

For example, mange and fleas might cause some forms of hair loss and itching. Creating patchy areas that the cat might lick, which makes them red due to inflammation. These red patches and skin loss can easily be mistaken for ringworms.

Unfortunately, these infections are not treatable with the same medications. That’s why you should let your vet diagnose the infection and run various tests, as well as bacterial and fungal cultures to determine the cause of the symptoms.

Can Ringworms Transmit Between Humans and Cats?

Not only humans but other pets, such as dogs, can also be infected with ringworms. This is because they’re zoonotic diseases that are transmitted between different species that have keratin (the material that makes up skin, hair, nails, and hooves in most living organisms).

This means that ringworms are transmissible from and to cats. Isolating the cat and limiting it to specific areas in the house is essential to minimize the spread of the spores in the household.

How Contagious Are Ringworms?

Although ringworms are pretty contagious, coming in contact with the fungus doesn’t necessarily result in an infection. This may be especially true if the exposed person or animal is an adult who has a powerful and healthy immune system.

However, young children, seniors, and those with a compromised immune system are highly susceptible to the infection and might develop skin lesions soon after the cat.

If any symptoms of ringworms show up on other family members, make sure that you consult a doctor immediately.

How Long Does It Take Ringworms to Disappear?

As a rule of thumb, it takes the infection anywhere between 7 – 14 days before your cat starts to develop lesions on the skin. However, some rare cases might take up to an additional week.

The infection remains contagious for up to one month while using treatments. However, this period may be greatly extended if you don’t follow the treatment plan as directed.

Ideally, it may take up to 6 to 8 months for the ringworms to fully disappear from the skin. However, the surest way to confirm complete resolution and successful treatment is by getting two consecutive negative fungal analyses.

Final Thoughts

With that said, you now know how to treat ringworms in cats. Although the disease is self-limited, treatment is necessary to get rid of the infection before it spreads, especially knowing that it can be transmitted to humans, and especially children, very easily.

Make sure that you take extra care while dealing with an infected cat and minimize the contamination by always cleaning and sanitizing the surfaces that the infection may have reached. These spores can easily survive for up to 18 months.

Remember to seek immediate medical attention if any person in the family develops small batches of thickened skin or red lesions with ring-shaped scaly edges.