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Ringworm is a well known fungus that can infect dogs, cats and humans. There are several different forms of the fungus which can infect either you or your pet.

The diagnosis and treatment is fairly straightforward for all species, however, some species affecting cats can be much more difficult. Every pet owner should be aware of the signs, transmission, and treatment of ringworm.

Where is Ringworm found?

Several different fungi found throughout the UK can cause ringworm, however, the vast majority of cases in cats are caused by Microsporum canis, Microsporum gypseum, or Trichophyton.

The fungus is most commonly found either on or in the living area of infected animals. Spores from infected animals can be shed into the environment and live for over 18 months. Most healthy cats do not carry spores on their skin or hair.

How is ringworm transmitted?

Ringworm can be transmitted by direct contact with an infected animal, or contact with an item that is contaminated with the spores.

The spore can be on infected grooming equipment or brushes, in a contaminated boarding facility or cattery, or in the environment where an infected animal has visited. Young cats are most often infected.

Cats with a suppressed immune system from other diseases or overuse of corticosteroids are also more susceptible to contracting the disease.

What are the signs of ringworm?

Cats with ringworm often have a very characteristic set of symptoms. The classic symptom is a small round lesion that has no fur.

The lesion will often have scaly skin in the centre. The lesion may start as a small spot and continue to grow in size.

The lesion may or may not be irritated and itchy. The lesions are most common on the head but can also occur on the legs, feet, or tail. They occur more commonly in long-haired cat breeds.

How is ringworm diagnosed?

A popular but not completely accurate way to diagnose the disease is through the use of a specialised black light called a Wood's lamp. Several species of the ringworm fungus will glow a fluorescent colour when exposed to a Wood's lamp.

The best and most accurate way to identify a ringworm infection is by collecting fur and crust from the skin and coat and performing a culture.

How is ringworm treated?

Most small, isolated lesions on healthy cats and kittens will heal on their own within 4 months. In more severe cases, several different treatments are used.

For isolated lesions, the area around the lesion should be thoroughly clipped down close to the skin. Care should be taken when clipping not to irritate the skin, as this may promote spreading of the infection.

The lesions can then be treated topically twice a day with an antifungal medication.

Another treatment option is to use oral antifungal agents such as itraconazole. Program suspension or injections that we dispense to control the flea cycle, also appears to play a role in the treatment of ringworm. It would not be the first line of treatment however.

Is ringworm transmissible to people?

Yes. Ringworm can be transmitted between cats and people.

Persons with suppressed immune systems, such as those undergoing chemotherapy may be especially vulnerable as well as children or the elderly.

Persons should wear gloves when handling affected animals and wash hands well afterwards.