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Ringworm in cats

Health & Wellness

Ringworm in cats: symptoms and treatment

Here’s how to get your pet help fast

Cats can be good at hiding discomfort, but when they start missing patches of fur and can’t stop itching themselves, it’s clear signs that something is up. According to Dr. Aliya McCullough, vet and pet health advocate, those two symptoms could be pointing to ringworm. Here’s what that means for your pet and you.

What is ringworm? 

Ringworm, or dermatophytosis, is a very contagious fungal infection (it’s not an actual worm) that’s found on pets’ hair, nails and skin. It’s very common in dogs but cats can contract it, too. The infection is usually secondary to another condition like allergies, endocrine issues or skin trauma. Ringworm is contagious and should be diagnosed and treated quickly because it can easily contaminate the environment that your cat lives in by getting into carpets, furniture and air vents. 

How do you know if your cat has ringworm? 

Kittens and older cats are more likely to be infected by ringworm. Cats who contract the infection typically experience hair loss around the ears, face, muzzle, which can spread to the paws and other parts of their bodies. Here are other ringworm symptoms you should watch out for:

  • Hair loss
  • Skin redness
  • Scaling
  • Crusting
  • Itchiness (but it isn’t always present)
Infographic about ringworm symptoms in cats

Ringworm treatment for cats

Visit your vet as soon as possible if you think your cat is experiencing ringworm. Vets will usually make a diagnosis based on your cat’s health history, clinical signs and a few diagnostic tests. Ringworm typically lasts between 6 to 8 weeks, and your veterinarian will most likely recommend testing your cat until they receive a negative result. 

Treating ringworm depends on the severity of your cat’s lesions and the number of infected pets in your household. In very mild cases, topical treatments, like medical shampoos or a lime sulfur dip, may do the trick. However, severely infected cats require the same topical treatments in addition to a long course of oral medications.

Your home probably needs to be deep cleaned (including the air ducts!) twice a week to fully eradicate the infection. When your cat’s hair begins to grow back and no new lesions appear, it means your cat is healing. 

Does Lysol disinfectant kill ringworm? 

Lysol, a brand of disinfectant, can kill ringworm on non-living surfaces. However, don’t put this on your cat. 

Does hand sanitizer kill ringworm? 

Ringworm lives below the surface of the skin, so hand sanitizer may not remove it from your skin. Never apply hand sanitizer or alcohol (of any kind) to your cat. 

Does bleach kill ringworm? 

Diluted bleach solutions kill ringworm on non-living surfaces, but never apply bleach to your cat. 

How contagious is ringworm from a cat to a human? 

Ringworm is very contagious from cats to people. It can be transferred by touching your pet’s skin, especially if you have a cut or open wound. It may appear as a small, itchy circular rash with a clear center. Quarantine your cat to a specific area of your home until they’re cleared by your veterinarian. Some other tips to stop ringworm from spreading are: 

  • Get rid of household items that can’t be washed.
  • Clean your cat’s litter box daily.
  • Disinfect your sofas, furnishings, food bowls, toys and anything else your pet interacts with twice a week.
  • With your vet’s permission, keep giving your cat treatments even when the skin lesions disappear and fur begins to regrow.
  • Wash your hands after interacting with your pet.

Cat hotspot vs. ringworm

While hot spots are rare for cats, they’re different from ringworm because they’re red, moist, painful and intensely itchy patches of skin. Ringworm, on the other hand, commonly presents as hairless, dry and flaky or crusty spots. The appearance of ringworm can vary, so always check with a veterinarian if you see any abnormal skin lesions on your cat.

Ringworm can be a pain, for both your cat and family members. But with our tips, your household will be back to normal in no time. 

The Dig, Fetch's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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