Ringworm In Cats & Kittens

Ringworm is one of the most common infectious skin conditions in our feline friends.

While the ‘worm’ in the title leads people to believe this is a parasite, ringworm is actually a fungus that lives on the superficial layers of the skin.

Though this fungus may not cause an overall health decline, it can deeply impact a cat’s skin and coat health.

So what is ringworm, and how do you treat this fungal infection in cats and kittens?

In this article we will go into the details of ringworm infections in cats and kittens, and help you better understand how to banish this fungus from your home for good.

Ringworm In Cats

What Is Ringworm?

Ringworm, or dermatophytosis, is a fungus that attacks the skin, nails, and hair in our furry friends.

Though the name can be a bit misleading for some pet parents, ringworm is not a parasite or worm at all.

Ringworm is a member of the dermatophytes fungus family, and likely got its name from the circular shape of its lesions.

If a cat comes in contact with ringworm spores, a few different scenarios may unfold.

Some cats will shed the spores with their natural grooming process, some cats will fight off the spores with the microorganisms on their skin, and others will become a host for ringworm spores.

Once the ringworms sets up a home base on the skin, the fungus will feed on the keratin present within the hair and nails.

How Do Cats Get Ringworm?

Ringworm is a contagious fungus that can be spread from cat to cat with direct contact.

Direct contact can include touching an infected cat, touching an infected person, or contact with any contaminated objects.

Ringworm spores can persist on food bowls, blankets, furniture, toys, combs, carpet, and virtually any porous surface.

When offered the right environment, ringworm spores can live for 12-18 months on a surface.

Kittens and elderly cats are especially at risk of falling victim to ringworm, as their natural skin defenses are lower than the average adult cat.

Cats with long hair can also have a hard time fighting off spores naturally, as their long fur can make it challenging to groom the spores away.

What Is The Incubation Period For Ringworm?

The incubation period for ringworm in cats and kittens is what makes it challenging to detect in some cases.

It can take lesions anywhere from 7 to 21 days to develop on the skin after exposure, even though they can still spread the spores to other cats in this transitional period.

It can take even longer for you to notice ringworm in a cat with long hair, as their thick fur can mask the developing lesions on the skin.

The potential 3 week incubation period is why it is so important to isolate your furry friend from other cats if they have recently been exposed to the fungus.

Many pet owners think their kitten is in the clear after a week has passed, only to discover their entire cat household has ringworm down the line.

What Are The Symptoms Of Ringworm In Cats & Kittens?

Once ringworm invades your feline friend’s skin, the fungus will begin to feed on all available keratin.

The fungus will not only set up shop on the superficial surface of the skin, but it will soon infect the hair shafts as well.

This process causes subtle skin irritation and fur fragility, leading to the bald, crusty skin we expect to see with ringworm.

Cat With Ringworm Around The Ears and Eyes
Cat With Ringworm Around The Ears and Eyes

Though we all have a general idea of how ringworm presents, the appearance of this fungus can vary from cat to cat.

Some ringworm is hard to detect until noticeable fur loss is present, allowing the fungus to spread quickly before medical intervention occurs.

To best stop ringworm in its tracks, it’s important to be aware of the many potential symptoms this inconvenient fungus can cause.

Some of the most common signs of ringworm in cats and kittens include:

  • Dry and flakey skin
  • Skin redness or irritation
  • Tiny raised bumps on the skin
  • Circular lesions, comparable to the appearance of cigarette burns
  • Itchy skin
  • Patches of hair loss
  • Rough or crusted skin
  • Irritation around the nail beds
  • Secondary skin infections from scratching

If you notice any of the above symptoms in your furry friend, we suggest reaching out to your vet for further guidance.

We also suggest keeping your cat away from any other pets in the home until a definitive diagnosis is made, as ringworm can spread quickly in a home.

Is Ringworm A Serious Medical Condition?

In most cases, ringworm will not seriously impact a cat’s overall health.

However, ringworm can be extremely inconvenient for the cat and the pet owner in multiple ways.

First, it’s important to realize that ringworm is a zoonotic disease that can be spread to humans.

We often come in close contact with our pets, whether it’s through daily cuddling or coming in contact with surfaces they have touched.

The longer a cat’s ringworm is left untreated, the higher the chance of spreading it to the humans in their life.

Ringworm can also have a devastating impact on cats or kittens in shelter or rescue situations.

Most people will not want to adopt a pet with a contagious fungal infection, causing them to miss out on interested adopters.

Ringworm can also be a time consuming skin condition that requires extra resources, and not all rescues have this to offer.

As unfortunate as it is, many feline friends are euthanized in shelters due to having severe ringworm infections.

And lastly, ringworm can easily lead to secondary skin infections due to the significant irritation it causes.

Many cats will constantly scratch the ringworm lesions, introducing bacteria to the compromised areas of skin.

Once this occurs, bacterial skin infections often develop.

While ringworm itself is not detrimental to a cat’s overall health, the complications that arise after infection can deeply impact their life.

Due to this, ringworm in cats should always be taken seriously.

How To Diagnose Ringworm In Cats & Kittens

If your veterinarian suspects ringworm in your feline companion, there are a few different diagnostic routes they may take.

The first route your vet can take will involve simply gathering a detailed history of your cat’s exposure risk, and ruling out any other obvious causes of skin irritation and hair loss.

Your vet may rule out the presence of fleas, the possibility of skin allergies, and any other basic skin conditions that mimic signs of ringworm.

Once your vet has performed a physical exam and gathered a detailed history, they may use a Wood’s lamp (UV light) to scan their body for any patches of glowing skin.

A large majority of ringworm species will glow under this fluorescent lamp, allowing your vet to diagnose ringworm with minimal testing.

However, it’s important to note that not all cases of ringworm will glow under this lamp, so this isn’t always a definitive diagnostic tool.

If the suspicious area of skin does not glow under the Wood’s lamp, your vet can suggest a skin culture.

A skin culture will involve placing samples of skin and hair on a culture plate, and sending this plate to the lab for further testing.

If fungal spores grow on this dish within 7-21 days, this will offer a definitive ringworm diagnosis.

However, since this process can take up to 21 days to complete, some vets may begin to treat the lesions as ringworm to be safe.

How To Treat Ringworm In Cats & Kittens

Many cases of ringworm will resolve on their own in a healthy cat, but this can take up to 6 months to occur.

In order to limit the spread and decrease the risk of spreading the fungus in your home, we always suggest treating ringworm from the moment it’s diagnosed.

The most common treatment approach for ringworm in cats and kittens is often a combination of two or more of the following options:

  • Medicated baths
  • Fungal spray
  • Fungal ointment
  • Oral antifungal medications

Oral medications are typically reserved for more severe cases of ringworm, while baths and ointments are often the first line of defense.

Each of these options will need to be prescribed by your veterinarian, as these are often the only solutions that are strong enough to get the job done.

Keep A Clean Home To Remove Ringworm Contamination

Not only should one or more of these options be implemented, you will also need to eliminate any environmental contamination.

This involves removing and cleaning any bedding they use often, keeping a constant rotation of clean bedding coming each day, and thoroughly cleaning any carpets or rugs in your home.

Spores can persist on a porous surface or material for up to 18 months, so you will want to eliminate any possibility of them being exposed again.

Based on the severity of your cat’s condition, ringworm treatment can last anywhere from 3 weeks to 12 weeks.

Ringworm treatment should be continued until your cat has two consecutive negative ringworm cultures, or when all areas of hair loss have begun to grow back.

Every case will vary, so we suggest continuing their treatment until your vet says otherwise.

How Long Is Ringworm Contagious?

As long as you begin aggressive treatment for your feline friend, their ringworm should only be contagious to other cats and humans for about 3-4 weeks.

This is only true if you are truly following through with the treatment your vet prescribes, as any half-measures will cause the fungus to persist for a longer period.

If you want to be certain that your cat’s ringworm is no longer active or contagious, you can always have your veterinarian perform a fungal skin culture.

If the lab gives your cat the clear, then you can rest assured that your cat is no longer a source of ringworm in your home.

Final Thoughts

Ringworm is a bothersome fungus that can lead to an array of skin complications for our feline friends.

With this being a zoonotic fungus, it’s important to always take your vet’s guidance seriously when treating ringworm in your cat.

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