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A highly contagious and persistent skin disease, ringworm can be difficult to diagnose. Cats can act as carriers without ever showing signs of the disease, which can also be transmitted to humans. The disease is a particular problem in shelters and catteries.
“It’s a frustrating, challenging disease,” notes Dr. Duffy Jones, who recently diagnosed a cat in his Atlanta practice. “Not every cat shows clinical signs. Sometimes we’ll see it on the person and find it on the cat later.”
What Is Ringworm?
Often mistaken for a worm or parasite, ringworm is actually a hardy fungal infection, says Dr. Amber Andersen, a veterinarian pursuing a masters degree in public health. Ringworm can be spread through direct contact or through contact with things an infected cat touches, such as bedding.
Kittens, elderly cats, cats with compromised immune systems and long-haired felines are more vulnerable to ringworm, according to Andersen. Likewise, children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems are also more susceptible. If left untreated, ringworm can lead to secondary bacterial infections.
How to Prevent Ringworm in Cats
Experts recommend following this checklist:
If Your Cat Gets Ringworm …
It can take up to four weeks to develop the culture that veterinarians use to diagnose ringworm. If your veterinarian suspects ringworm, he or she will likely recommend immediate treatment. Jones dips cats in a lime sulfur shampoo. “The cats hate it and it smells terrible, but it’s very, very safe. Eighty to 90 percent of cases will clear with the dip,” says Jones. Oral drugs can cause stomach upset, so the dip is better. Your cat may also be treated with a topical ointment, says Andersen.
You should also do the following:
“Ringworm is much more common than you would think,” says Andersen. And while it’s relatively benign compared to many other things, it can pose problems for some vulnerable people and animals.”
Kim Boatman is a journalist and frequent contributor to The Daily Cat, based in Northern California whose work has appeared in The Miami Herald, the Detroit Free Press and the San Jose Mercury News. She is a lifelong lover of animals and shares her home with three cats.