The good news is that ringworm is not a worm! It’s a fungus, very similar to athlete’s foot or jock itch, which put the problem in better perspective for me. For me, ‘ringworm’ had a scary connotation that was not based in fact! Our rescue kittens came to us with ringworm, likely contracted from their mother, who was a stray cat. Ringworm is contagious and passes between pets and also pet to human through contact. If one pet has ringworm, chances are good that your other pets may develop ringworm, and (deep breath) you will likely get it too!
There are multiple species of ringworm (fungi group: dermatophytes) and some are species specific, meaning they can only be transmitted within one species of animals (for example, only contagious between cats.) However, many common species of ringworm may be transmitted between cats, dogs, and humans. Ringworm can take between 7-21 days to appear, so infected animals or humans may not show signs of ringworm for a few weeks.
It’s possible to detect ringworm on your pet. Here are some signs:
- Upraised, ring shaped lesions. Usually the upraised ring is red and the center is lighter. (Also applies to humans.)
- Your cat or dog may lose the fur, resulting in random bald patches, which can appear anywhere on the body. Your pet may scratch at the area, as ringworm can itch (or hurt) depending on how far it has developed. Ringworm does not always result in itching.
- Small tufts of our kitten’s fur would pull right off of their skin, with what looked like a dry scab attached to the base of the fur – this is caused by the fungus.
- In dogs, as the ringworm lesions grow larger, fur may begin to grow within the “ring,” but this fur will be weak and brittle.
Your veterinarian can diagnose ringworm using these methods:
- Diagnose based on symptoms (usually confirmed with another method.)
- Use an ultraviolet light to detect ringworm fungus on the skin and fur (somewhat reliable, but not all species of ringworm glow and product residues on the skin/fur can cause a false positive.)
- Take a fur culture, which is the most reliable way to diagnose ringworm.
Good News! Ringworm is easily treated!
Treatment requires persistence, as oral medications must be administered to pets daily until no traces of the fungus remain, which your vet can confirm with a fur culture. Topical creams can be used, but are probably difficult to apply on your pet, especially if they can lick the area. Our kittens received oral medication from the vet, which has effectively cleared up their ringworm.
We also gave our kittens baths with Earthbath Tea Tree Oil & Aloe Vera Totally Natural Pet Shampoo as tea tree oil has been shown to effectively kill fungus like ringworm. I highly recommend this homeopathic tea tree oil bath (or similar) in addition to the medications from your vet!
Ringworm fungus infects your pet’s fur and can survive once shed, so it is important to clean your home thoroughly during the duration of the ringworm infection. Wash your pet’s bedding, toys, brushes, and vacuum rugs and furniture (if possible) to remove the infected fur from the environment. This will help reduce the chances of reinfection.
As I mentioned, the humans of my household also got ringworm. We found tolnaftate anti-fungal cream and tea tree bath liquid to be most effective. Other anti-fungals like miconazole or clotrimazole (reference U.S. National Library of Medicine online) will work also.
If you suspect that you or your pet has ringworm, it’s important to get it confirmed by your doctor or veterinarian. Dutifully follow the veterinarian (or doctor) orders and you’ll eventually be rid of ringworm!
Jennifer Kean is a writer and pet-lover who owns two rescue kittens (lifetime cat owner too!) and has a 40 gallon fish tank!