Mycelium of most species of pathogenic fungi look like finest woven, rough or smooth, coated or covered with thorns with spiral twisted ends. There are more than five hundred species of yeast and mold fungus, affecting both animals and humans. Ringworm (lichen or tinea) in cats is the collective name of infections caused by various species of fungi, in particular Microsporum and Trichophyton.
Ringworm in cats (tinea, trichophytosis or microsporia) are a contagious disease dangerous to humans. Little kittens, dogs, people with weakened immune systems and children of preschool age get sick with it most often. Signs of ringworm in cats with strong immunity appear very rarely, although fungus can be on the coat and on the skin for years. Healthy organism prevents fungus from propagating and developing.
Ways of infection
Unfortunately, ringworm in cats are highly contagious for animals and people with weakened immune system. The fungus is spread with spores, which can be noticed only with a microscope. Ringworm in rat-catching cats can manifest themselves after a successful hunt, because rodents are also prone to fungal infections. Spores are spread by air and settle on furniture, clothes, floor and walls. Cats may get infected without even contacting the carrier – just walking on the grass, where another sick cat or a sick dog had a walk or rubbing against the jacket of their owners and so on.
It is hardly possible to get rid of ringworm in a couple of weeks, so the sick animal should be quarantined. Before contacting the infected cat you should put on surgical gloves, a doctor’s smock and shoe covers (not to spread spores around the apartment, especially if there are small kids in a family).
The way ringworm in cats look like usually depends on the degree of infection development and on the immune system resistance. Usually the sign is a small receding hairline with rounded edges on dry and peeling skin. Such spots of be of natural skin color or reddish, yellowish or grayish, they may be itchy or not. Distinguish features of ringworm in cats are areas with sparse hair that become larger making the cat look kind of “bald”. As ringworm can manifest themselves in different ways – from small spots on cat’s ears and muzzle to huge hairless areas – any hairless spots should be noticed by the owner.
In many cases the disease development doesn’t happen (it stops at one little bare spot), but it is necessary to visit the vet anyway. The thing is that even in the slightest stressful situation for the immunity the fungus starts developing, and it may lead to major hair loss. In addition, even a tiny affected area spreads spores that may infect other people and animals.
We hope it is clear how ringworm in cats look like. It is a bit more difficult when it comes to symptoms. If the cat is healthy, it may live with fungal infection without noticing it. Sensitive animals start scratching the spots; itching gradually increases causing more troubles (sometimes cats scratch themselves tearing the skin to the blood). The skin of some cats gets covered with pimples or tiny nodules that are hardly visible, but can be easily palpated.
As it is a vet only who can diagnose ringworm in cats – a trip to the clinic is recommended. The symptoms of ringworm are similar to the symptoms of other diseases (bacterial infection, subcutaneous mites, allergic dermatitis and so on), so it is unwise to postpone a visit to the vet clinic.
For a long time it was considered that an effective cure against ringworm in cats won’t ever be invented. Infected dogs were put down according to vets’ recommendations or just thrown into the street. Fortunately, today a remedy against ringworm can be found in any veterinary drugstore; however, it is important to diagnose the type of fungus. Complex drugs aren’t always effective, and selecting effective drugs takes a lot of time.
To diagnose ringworm, the vet may use an UV lamp. If the “enemy” is detected, the vet will prescribe the ointment against this very fungus type. But unfortunately more than 50% of fungus species doesn’t fluoresce. Therefore, in some cases diagnosing required scraping affected skin areas. The analysis is usually ready in a day, so the vet can appoint the treatment and prescribe the medicine.
In order to choose the most effective drug the cat needs to undergo inoculation. The material is placed in special environment and its development is monitored. This procedure helps to identify the type of fungus and drugs, to this type is highly sensitive. Such an analysis takes about ten days, but it provides the vet with most accurate results. Moreover, during the examination of samples it is possible to identify how seriously the cat is infected. It is important for estimating the need in antibiotics and immune system stimulating drugs.
In many cases ringworm are difficult to treat. It may take several weeks until any improvements become apparent, but you have to use the prescribed ointment regularly and according to the scheme recommended by the doctor though. Even if the improvement is obvious, the treatment course should be completed, otherwise fungi remain active and the treatment has to be repeated.
The vet should instruct you about the treatment course. The coat of longhaired animals is better to be groomed, but very carefully, without damaging the skin (even a slightest scratch may worsen the condition of the pet). Sick animals shouldn’t be bathed as water spreads the spores over the body (expect of bathing with special anti-ringworm shampoos, using which isn’t always a good idea though). Popular remedies for treatment at home are ineffective and dangerous. For example, some people use iodine that is toxic to cats.
Keep in mind that the cat is considered to be healthy only after two negative results of scrapings, taken with weekly intervals. The disappearance of the symptoms doesn’t always mean full recovery. Being irresponsible when it comes to your cat’s immune system is unacceptable.
To prevent re-infection, the room should be cleaned at least once a week. Ordinary detergents are ineffective against agents of ringworm. A good idea is to clean the room with hot steam – no chemical substances and no danger for your cat’s health. Use the detergent your vet recommends you to when you clean the floors, window sills, and other surfaces.
There is a vaccine against ringworm in cats, and some vets recommend it to owners of four-legged patients. However, according to independent experts, this vaccine is not only useless, but may be even dangerous:
“The therapeutic effect of these vaccines is much stronger than the preventive one. Frankly speaking I never recommend owners to vaccinate their cats against ringworm just in case. If your cat gets infected every year I recommend double vaccinating before traveling to the country, for example.”
Irina Kuznetsova, veterinary dermatologist
“Vaccination provides no protection from lichen at all. If the cat’s immunity is good – it will resist, if not – the disease will develop. Among those cats who suffer from ringworm most often there are kittens, elderly, pregnant and lactating cats. From my personal experience I should say, vaccinated animals have to be treated much longer and much more difficult, those not vaccinated are treated faster and easier. Animals vaccinated every year got infected with ringworm like those not vaccinated at all – what’s the point then? At my nursery we haven’t used these vaccines for 4 years already”.
Yulia Bondartsova, Diamond Toy nursery
“These vaccines haven’t proved their effectiveness. I have enough statistics for seven years of work in the feline club. Moreover, these vaccines have lots of drawbacks: miscarriages, unsuccessful mating attempts, health problems in litter. Vaccinated animals are harder to treat and together with weakened immunity they may produce more active strains (note: more contagious to other cats and people)”.
Svetlana Ponomayova, the Director of RUSSICATS nursery,
a WCF judge, the President of ALISA-BEST" feline club
The best prevention of ringworm in cats is quality nutrition, care and limitation of contacts with potential carriers. For those who still have doubts, whether the vaccinate the cat from ringworm, we would like to provide a few more facts: the vaccine hasn’t passed any tests in Europe, the cat may not be vaccinated against ringworm to participate in exhibitions and vets recommending these vaccines are the only party that benefits from that.