Ringworm is a skin infection caused by a fungus. It is contagious between cats and can also spread to people and other species. It is usually mild but can be more severe in kittens or immunocompromised cats.
Cats catch ringworm, also called dermatophytosis, when damaged skin comes into contact with spores shed by animals with the disease. This is usually through direct contact, but hairs and objects can also carry the spores. Healthy animals can clear the disease after a few months, but they could spread it until they do. Ringworm is very contagious but not life-threatening.
What is ringworm in cats?
A contagious disease that only affects the skin.
Usually caught from close contact with affected animals.
Caused by several species of fungus.
Healthy skin is very resistant to infection.
Minor skin damage or problems with the immune system will allow infection to set in.
Can look like many other skin conditions.
Can also affect claws.
Serious disease is rare, but treatment is advised to reduce spread.
Call a vet if you suspect ringworm to make sure your pet gets safe and effective treatment.
Symptoms of ringworm in cats
The most common symptoms are small patches of hair loss with dry and scaly skin.
Dry skin areas are often itchy.
Many other skin conditions look similar and can be confused.
It can affect one spot, many spots or large areas.
Skin may be dry, red, dark, weepy or swollen.
Sometimes there are crusts or scabs.
Infected claws can shed or become deformed.
Are some cats more at risk of getting ringworm than others?
Young kittens and animals with problems affecting their immune system are most at risk of getting ringworm.
Cats with long hair are also at higher risk, especially Persian cats.
Can humans get ringworm from cats?
Ringworm is a zoonosis, this means that humans can get it from cats and other animals.
Children and people with a weakened immune system are at higher risk.
Contact your GP if any family members develop skin problems, especially round red spots on their skin.
How is ringworm diagnosed in cats?
Diagnosis may be complex as ringworm can look the same as other skin diseases.
Some animals can have spores on them without having the disease.
Certain types of ringworm will look fluorescent green under UV light. This can be checked with a special lamp called a Wood’s lamp.
Looking at damaged or shed hairs under the microscope can sometimes reveal the fungus.
One of the best tests available is incubating skin, hair, or claw samples in the lab to see if the fungus grows. This may take up to two weeks.
Tests looking for the DNA of the fungus, called PCR tests, can also be used, but they have limitations.
What’s the treatment for ringworm in cats?
Since ringworm is contagious, treatment usually tries to eliminate the fungus and not just the symptoms. After the skin recovers, we check if the fungus is still there. Treatments will depend on how widespread and how severe the disease is.
Small areas can sometimes be treated with a prescription ointment.
Larger areas usually need a combination of oral medication and medicated washes or shampoos.
Severe disease often requires long periods of treatment.
If there are other diseases present, these usually need to get better before the ringworm will.
You may want to test all other pets and treat them if necessary, otherwise the infection may go back and forth.
Effective treatment requires prescription medications, and using the wrong treatment can make things worse.
Always discuss testing and treatment options with your vet.
Tips on how to prevent ringworm from spreading
Ringworm in cats is spread by the spores from the fungus, and these are often attached to scales and hairs that are shed.
Isolate pets from direct contact and clean the area frequently.
Healthy skin can repel infection, but minor abrasions can allow it to break in. Use gloves and a separate change of clothes to handle an affected pet.
Hands, bowls, trays, bedding, and clothing must be washed frequently. Try two consecutive washes with the longest program in the washing machine and use normal detergent.
Household cleaning products are also effective, as long as all the hair and dust are cleaned away first.
Joii can help with more advice on the best ways to keep your house clean and safe.
If any family members develop skin problems, especially round red spots on their skin, contact your GP for a consultation.
When to worry
When to worry about ringworm
Seek help from a vet if you notice areas of hair loss or skin changes in your cat. This is even more important if it’s a young kitten or it has any ongoing health conditions. It may be more urgent if there is swelling, discharge, or severe scratching.