Ringworm is a fungus that affects the superficial layers of a cat’s skin. The fungi that cause this fungal infection are called dermatophytes. Any feline can get ringworm, but senior and longhaired cat breeds are most at risk.
Cats usually recover from ringworm on their own in 6 weeks or less. However, the ringworm recovery process can be expedited with a prescription topical ointment or shampoo. Anti-fungal oral medications may also be needed to clear up dermatophytosis.
Left alone, a cat’s body will eventually heal ringworm by itself. This approach is not recommended, though, as this can take as long as a year. Your cat will experience symptoms throughout this time, including itchy skin and fur loss. Taking action speeds up the ringworm healing process.
What is Ringworm in Cats?
Ringworm is sometimes referred to as dermatophytosis. These dermatophytes feed on keratin found in a cat’s fur.
According to The Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, a sub-species of dermatophytes called Microsporum canis cause the majority of feline ringworm outbreaks.
Once nourished, dermatophytes multiply and burrow into a cat’s skin. It can take as long as 21 days for dermatophytes to manifest as ringworm.
Ringworm is contagious, so it is usually caused by contact with an infected cat. Many stray and feral cats have ringworm. The fungi also live in soil and water. So, outdoor cats must be checked for these symptoms:
- Spherical red scabs on the skin and nails
- Dandruff within the cat’s fur
- Crusty scales on a cat’s skin
- Oily, greasy or clumpy fur
- Circular bald patches in a cat’s fur
- Itchy skin
Even if your cat remains indoors, it can develop ringworm. The condition is zoonotic, meaning it can affect humans or any other animal. If you or another pet has ringworm, your cat may be infected.
Is Ringworm Deadly to Cats?
Ringworm is not life-threatening, but it is uncomfortable for a cat. Your cat’s skin will harden and flake. This will cause the cat’s skin to itch, and fur to fall out in clumps.
As the cat scratches its skin, it risks opening wounds. Your cat may start bleeding, leaving open wounds on the skin. This, in turn, creates the risk of a bacterial infection.
Left untreated, ringworm can also cause miliary dermatitis. The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association stated that this issue is usually related to allergens.
The dermatophytes that cause ringworm are stubborn. They live on fabrics, food bowls, and combs for up to 18 months. After a ringworm outbreak, everything in your home must be washed or replaced.
Ringworm Recovery Process
Ringworm responds to being treated. The Journal of Small Animal Practice confirms that Microsporum canis infections respond to treatment.
You can also aid your cat’s recovery by ensuring it eats the right foods regularly. A cat with ringworm needs a wet diet that’s high in protein and fat. This will replace the keratin that dermatophytes feed upon. This, in turn, encourages the regrowth of healthy skin and fur.
This process takes an average of six weeks. A stubborn infection may last longer. Do not take any chances with your cat’s recovery. Only allow your cat to leave quarantine when a vet gives the all-clear.
Quarantine Your Cat
If your cat has been diagnosed with ringworm, it must be confined to a single room. This reduces the risk of the dermatophytes making their way throughout the home.
If you do not have a spare room, keep your cat in a carrier. Designate an area for the cat to exercise and eat, then return it to the carrier. Don’t just send your cat outside to roam. It will infect other neighborhood pets.
This confinement will be frustrating for your cat. Make it as easy as possible by providing stimulation, such as new toys and cat trees. These will need to be thrown away when the cat has fully recovered.
Spend time with the cat during its quarantine. Avoid handling the cat, though. If you must touch your cat, wear gloves and long sleeves.
Apply Ointments to the Skin
The most effective treatment for ringworm is a topical ointment. This will be applied straight to your cat’s skin. The ointment will heal a cat’s skin and kill off the remaining dermatophytes.
Only apply an ointment prescribed by a vet as human anti-fungal creams may be harmful. A cat’s skin has a pH range between 6.2 and 7.2. The human skin ranges from 5.2 to 6.2.
In order for an ointment to work, it must be applied straight to your cat’s skin. This means that your cat may need to be shaved. This is especially likely in longhaired breeds. Thick fur will block the medication.
The key component of any treatment for ringworm is miconazole. This antifungal remedy is often used to treat ringworm. For maximum efficiency, many ointments will combine miconazole with chlorhexidine gluconate.
A vet may also prescribe a medical shampoo for ringworm, in addition to or instead of an ointment. This will be most common in longhaired cats, or those with severe ringworm.
The main purpose of a medicated shampoo is to treat a cat’s entire body. Where ointment will be applied to particular problem areas, shampoo is a catchall approach. Like ointment, a medicated shampoo will contain miconazole and chlorhexidine gluconate.
A cat with ringworm will need to be shampooed around twice a week. The shampoo should be liberally applied and left to sink in for ten minutes.
Always wear gloves while shampooing the cat. Be careful while drying your cat off. Use a soft towel so you do not open any scabs and cause bleeding.
Bathing a cat can be challenging at the best of times. A cat with ringworm will have delicate skin, making this even more awkward.
In addition to topical treatment, some vets will prescribe an oral ant-fungal medication. The most common drugs used for this are:
These medications may cause side effects. Griseofulvin, in particular, can result in loss of appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea. As diet is important to a cat’s recovery from ringworm, this not ideal.
A course of oral medication usually lasts around six weeks. You must not stop medicating your cat until the prescription runs out. Your cat will need periodic tests during the treatment. This will determine if the medication is having the desired effect.
Ringworm can leave unsightly marks on a cat’s skin. As part of the healing process, exfoliate your cat’s skin. You can pick up an exfoliating kit from a pet store. Ensure this is designed especially for a cat’s skin/pH level.
If you cannot find an exfoliating product, consider a home remedy. Mix baking soda with lemon juice and water. Add a coarse foodstuff, such as sugar or ground nuts. Rub this into your cat’s skin and leave it for a couple of minutes. Rinse this off with warm water.
If this does not help, seek the advice of an animal dermatologist. Professionals have two possible approaches to ringworm scars:
- Laser treatment
In the event of major scarring, full dermabrasion is necessary. This will see your cat’s skin sanded down, removing the scarred tissue. New tissue will grow back. This painful, invasive procedure may not be suitable for senior cats. Their skin will lack sufficient collagen to regrow.
If your cat has been diagnosed with ringworm, it can become a recurrent issue. To minimize the risk of persistent infection, you must clean the house from top to bottom. Here’s how:
- Spray everything in the home with an anti-fungal solution
- Wash your cat’s bed and cushions on high heat
- Wash your cat’s bowls and litter tray with disinfectant
- Any toys that your cat has played with while infected must be thrown away and replaced
Apply this disinfectant to any wooden or linoleum floor surfaces. Shampoo any carpets in your home to kill stubborn dermatophytes. These will fall from your cat’s skin throughout the healing process. Once you have washed the carpets, vacuum thoroughly.
Launder any clothes that your cat may have come into contact with. To be on the safe side, wash everything you own. Cats often hide in closets and drawers. Your clothes could be covered in fungal spores.
Wash all soft furnishings in the home. Leather sofas can be cleaned with a white vinegar solution. Couch cushions, curtains and drapes and everything else should be laundered and left to dry in the sun.
Will Ringworm Go Away on its Own?
Ringworm will resolve itself without intervention. The fungi will die off, and the symptoms will subside. In most cats, this will take around three or five months. It could take as long as a year, though.
During this time, the cat will be in significant discomfort. It will experience hair loss, and constantly scratch. This will cause stress and anxiety. Your cat also faces the risk of permanent scarring. Treatment is always recommended for ringworm.
With treatment, your cat will usually heal within six weeks. That may seem like a long time, but it’s better than the alternative. Ignoring ringworm will have a negative effect on your cat’s quality of life.