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We’ve all heard—and cringed at—the word “ringworm.” It just sounds itchy, doesn’t it? But despite the name, ringworm is actually a fungus. This fungus creates circular patterns on the skin that cause dry, grey, scaly patches and hair loss. When the word ringworm is spoken at veterinary offices, there are three questions most people immediately ask: How contagious is it? How did my cat get it? How do I get rid of it? Here is what we know:

How contagious is it? Ringworm is highly contagious to cats under 1 year of age and with a compromised immune system. It’s possible for other cats, dogs, and humans to contract ringworm, but the likelihood of it is based on the individual and their immune system. It’s very common for cats to be carriers of ringworm spores without being infected by the fungus itself, and it’s also common for dogs and humans to come in contact with ringworm and never experience any symptoms. Though ringworm is contagious in itself, the skin must be abraded in order to allow for the infection. This means that freshly shaved, scraped, or scratched skin is vulnerable. It cannot infect healthy, intact skin. Generally, if you do not already have ringworm when your cat is diagnosed, you’re unlikely to get it.

How did my cat get it? Ringworm spores cannot be seen with the naked eye, but they do exist on many surfaces. Ringworm thrives in hot and damp environments and will grow uncontrollably under these conditions. Spores are hardy in the environment and live for years. Infected animals can carry it on their fur even if they show no signs of infection. Ringworm can come from different kinds of animals, the soil, and particularly damp areas like locker rooms and public showers. Spores can live on all kinds of surfaces, including clothing, towels, and bedding.

How do you get rid of it? Ringworm is treatable, but it does require persistence and time. If you suspect ringworm, immediately isolate your cat and seek treatment from a veterinarian. Though it is possible for cats to recover on their own, it could take up to a year to happen, if it does at all. If the cat is not confined, they will continue to contaminate the environment while the ringworm is active. Treatment will vary based on your veterinarian and the diagnosis but could include oral medication, topical medication, sulfur lime baths, or a combination of all three. While the cat is isolated and undergoing treatment, it’s necessary to do a deep clean of the living environment, including clothes, linens, floors, and even walls. If it’s washable, wash it!

Ringworm can be frustrating to address, but gaining control of the spread is possible and treatment is manageable. Take action at the first sign of the infection to maximize the results in the least amount of time. Your veterinarian can walk you through a detailed treatment plan for your cat. If you or another person in the home is experiencing signs of ringworm, it is best to also seek medical treatment.

September 19, 2023