What to do if your cat has a ringworm infection

Published on
Last updated on
10 min read
What to do if your cat has a ringworm infection - A black and gray cat sits on a table and scratches at their chin

Skin infections are never something cat owners want to think about, especially when they can spread to the other humans in the household. Ringworm is a common fungal infection that affects the skin and can be difficult to treat thoroughly. If you have a cat, read on to learn:

  • What is a ringworm infection?
  • How is ringworm diagnosed and effectively treated?
  • How do I know if my cat has ringworm?
  • Can ringworm be prevented in cats?

Ringworm can easily spread to people from infected cats, so treatment and isolation are essential. Veterinary diagnosis of ringworm is necessary to identify the skin infection, allowing for proper treatment. It usually takes more than six weeks to effectively treat a ringworm infection in cats, so you need to know you’re on the right path.

What is ringworm?

Ringworm is a fungal infection that affects the skin, hair, and nails of many animals, including cats. Despite its name, the infection, also known as dermatophytosis, is caused by fungi and has nothing to do with worms. While a ringworm infection may not bother a cat, it is essential to treat it thoroughly because it’s highly contagious to other pets and people in the household.

How do veterinarians diagnose and treat cats with ringworm?

Ringworm in cats can appear like other skin problems, including flea allergy dermatitis or a bacterial infection. In order to diagnose a ringworm infection, veterinarians often conduct a physical exam, fungal cultures, and a microscopic examination of skin scrapings. There are several species of fungi that can cause ringworm. Some species glow under ultraviolet light, meaning an infected cat’s skin and hair can glow yellow or green under a special light in a dark room. This tool is also used to help diagnose ringworm.

The treatment for ringworm involves antifungal medications, disinfecting the home, and isolating the affected cat. Ringworm treatment takes a minimum of six weeks, so it can be difficult for cat owners to isolate their pets during the entire course of treatment. Isolation is essential to prevent the spread of ringworm throughout the household and to fully eliminate the fungus. Other pets and people in the home may need to be tested and treated as well.

Can I treat my cat’s ringworm infection from home?

Ringworm in cats can look like many other common skin conditions, so an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan from a veterinarian are crucial to resolve the infection. Use over-the-counter remedies and home treatment for ringworm only when directed to do so by a veterinarian. Treatment for ringworm usually requires long-term:

  • Thorough disinfection of the home
  • Isolation of the affected cat from other pets and people
  • Topical treatments and medicated shampoos
  • Oral antifungal medication

While healthy cats with ringworm often recover with minimal intervention, veterinary attention is recommended any time ringworm is suspected due to its highly contagious nature. A severe infection may require prescription oral medications in addition to over-the-counter treatments at home. It’s common to need blood work before and after extended treatment for ringworm to ensure the liver is metabolizing the medication properly. Treatments may need to be altered for pets with liver issues or who are not reacting well to the medication.

Natural ringworm treatments are not effective and often contain unsafe ingredients for cats, such as garlic and tea tree oil. The fungal skin infection needs to be treated with proper antifungal medications and household sanitation, all while keeping the affected cat away from other members of the household. When handling an infected cat and applying topical medication, it’s important to wear gloves, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, and wash clothing that has come into contact with the cat to prevent the spread of fungal spores around the home.

What are the symptoms of ringworm in cats?

Some cats with ringworm are asymptomatic, making it difficult to detect. When cats do show symptoms of ringworm, the most common include:

Itchiness can also occur with ringworm. “Pet parents often think ringworm appears as a red-rimmed, circular patch of hair loss, but that’s rarely the case,” explains Dr. Jo Myers, a Vetster veterinarian. “The shape of a skin lesion doesn’t narrow down the diagnosis.” Any time a cat is showing signs of a skin infection, it’s best to talk with a vet for a proper diagnosis before assumptions are made.

A graphic of the quote above

How did my cat get ringworm?

Ringworm spores are spread through the environment and direct contact with infected animals or people. The primary route of transmission is direct contact with another affected animal, so ringworm is more common in catteries, shelters, and multi-cat households. The fungus also lives in warm, damp environments such as soil and showers. Spores can spread to cats by:

  • Tracking in on clothing, shoes, and other pets that go outdoors
  • Exposure to infected skin or flakes in shared living spaces like apartment building elevators
  • Playing in or ingesting dirt where ringworm naturally lives, including indoor plant soil
  • Direct contact with other infected animals

Outdoor cats, young kittens, and immunocompromised cats are the most likely to catch ringworm, but healthy, indoor adult cats can become infected as well. Long-haired cats are also more predisposed to infection. Feline ringworm infection occurs most often when the fungus is able to get into the skin through a break from a scratch or other infection.

Can I prevent ringworm in my cat?

Keeping a cat indoors and away from other cats is the best way to prevent a ringworm infection. Regularly vacuuming and cleaning home surfaces and pet bedding also helps remove any fungal spores from the home, especially after another animal comes to visit. If adopting a new animal, isolate them until you have had a veterinarian clear them of infectious diseases, including ringworm. Flea prevention may also help prevent a ringworm infection by reducing the risk of flea allergy dermatitis, which can cause open sores on the skin. Regular vet checkups and wellness testing do not help prevent a cat from catching ringworm. However, they enable the identification and management of other diseases that can increase the risk of contracting ringworm.

Can cats spread ringworm to people?

Ringworm is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can spread between animals and people. The infection is highly contagious and can easily be passed from cats to humans. Even asymptomatic cats can spread ringworm to their owners. Regularly cleaning the home and getting prompt treatment if symptoms are present helps prevent the spread of ringworm to people. If your cat or another pet tests positive for ringworm in the home, talk to your doctor about getting yourself tested as well.

If you have any concerns about how to treat your cat for ringworm or if you suspect your cat may have a ringworm infection, you can connect with an online vet for advice with Vetster.

FAQ - What to do if your cat has a ringworm infection

How did my indoor cat get ringworm?

Although the most common route of transmission is direct contact with an infected animal, ringworm can be carried indoors on other items like clothing and shoes, or on other pets. In apartment buildings, other infected animals can shed fur and skin that can infect your cat if they are exposed to shared living spaces like the elevator or foyer.

Can humans get ringworm from cats?

Ringworm is highly contagious and zoonotic, so it can easily spread from animals to humans. Talk to a vet about how to handle an infected cat during the course of treatment and how to effectively disinfect the home. If you or a human family member develops a skin rash, seek medical attention.

How do you know if a cat has ringworm?

Ringworm has similar symptoms and can appear like other skin diseases and infections. Common symptoms include patches of hair loss or brittle hair, skin inflammation and redness, scaly crusts, and dandruff. Talk to a vet if you’re concerned your cat has a skin infection.

How do you clean your house after your cat has ringworm?

Remove cat hair and dander by thoroughly vacuuming carpet and furniture, as well as dusting and disinfecting other surfaces. Wash towels, bedding, and other items that your cat has frequent contact with separately from other clothing. Cleaning and disinfection will need to be completed frequently while your cat is being treated for ringworm. Learn how to decontaminate your home from ringworm properly.