All cats are susceptible to ringworm, so it might become a common health concern for you at some point in your cat’s life. If you’re wondering what the signs and symptoms are of ringworm in cats, this post will help you form a good understanding.
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According to veterinarian Aliraza Gujjar, ringwork, or feline dermatophytosis, is a skin condition which is caused by fungi called dermatophytes. It is a commonly occurring skin disorder in animals.
Contrary to what you might think, it has nothing to do with worms. It’s called ringworm solely because it causes ring-shaped inflammation in the superficial layers of the skin, nails and hair.
What are Dermatophytes?
Dermatophytes are microscopic organisms that thrive on keratin protein, which is contained in the nails and hair. These organisms reproduce rapidly and form millions of spores that develop into new organisms. They can cause disease when they come in contact with another organism.
However, if a cat is healthy, it can brush off the spores during self-grooming and wingworm won’t take hold.
What Cats Are Most Susceptible
Kittens and long-haired cats are the most susceptible to infections and may develop a more widespread and persistent ringworm infection.
Younger cats have less developed immune response and a weaker skin defense. Long-haired cats are susceptible as spores get trapped in their hair more easily, explains Gujjar.
The most common species of dermatophytes that affect cats is Microsporum canis. Certain species of dermatophytes are zoonotic, which means they can be passed from cats to humans if exposed.
However, exposure does not always result in infection, because just like with healthy cats, healthy people are resistant to it as well.
Ringworm Symptoms in Cats
If you suspect that your cat has ringworm, there are some typical symptoms to look out for.
1. Round Patches on the Skin
If you notice skin lesions in the form of round patches of hair loss, this is likely indicative of a ringworm infection.
The most common areas on a cat to be infected by ringworm is the face, ears, chest, tail and feet.
But do keep in mind that an outbreak can be mild to severe. A mild infection might not even appear on the skin. That doesn’t mean your cat doesn’t have it, just that you can’t see it.
2. Alopecia or Hair Loss
Alopecia or hair loss occurs when spores infect the hair shaft making it so fragile that it breaks off. The affected skin looks sore, crusty and scaly in texture.
When the infection is widespread, it involves a larger area of body with bald patches.
3. Excessive Scratching or Grooming
When a cat is infected with spores, it can lead the cat to itch the patches of infected skin, or try to alleviate the symptoms by grooming excessively.
In some cases, certain long-haired cats may not show visible lesion or any clinical sign. They are called asymptomatic carriers and are capable of spreading the disease without even knowing that they are infected.
The symptoms of ringworm are quite similar to other cat diseases such as flea energy dermatitis (FAD) so you need to contact your vet for an accurate diagnosis.
Diagnosis of Ringworm
To rule out the possibility of other diseases and to make a definite diagnosis, the following tests are performed:
Examination Under a Wood’s Lamp
Hair infected with fungi will glow yellow-green fluorescent when examined under a special ultraviolet lamp called a wood’s lamp in a dark room. The fungus-coated hair that give fluorescence are then microscopically examined to find the spore and fungi characteristics.
However, this is not a completely reliable method because there are certain species of fungi that do not produce fluorescence. Even in case of M canis, only 50% cases show positive results.
The result can also be a false positive due to the presence of certain ointment and other contaminations that give glow under UV light. This arises the need of other tests to make a diagnosis.
Examining the Suspected Hair
Scraps of skin and hair are collected from the area under suspicion and are microscopically examined. Spore and other fungal elements can be seen under the microscope. This is a quick method for an early diagnosis but it cannot be trusted until verified with a fungal culture test.
Fungal Culture Test
This is the most accurate and reliable way to diagnose a ringworm infection in cats. Hair and skin scraping are examined in a controlled environment to determine if the fungus is present. This is a long process and takes up to 3 weeks to get the results, especially when fungal spores are slow to grow.
Your vet may also suggest additional testing before making a diagnosis.
Treatment and Prevention of Ringworm
Ringworm is highly contagious and should be treated as quickly as possible. Treatment options include:
Systemic / oral treatment
This includes administration of oral anti-fungal drugs. Common anti-fungal drugs include Itraconazole, and terbinafine while griseofulvin is frequently used and preferred due to fewer side effects.
Oral therapy is prescribed for a mininum of 6 weeks and the disease can recur if stopped early. To make sure that treatment is affective, the fungal culture test is performed periodically.
Topical treatment includes the use of anti-fungal shampoo, anti-fungal creams and dips. Anti-fungal creams have limited applications and are prescribed when the infection is localized to small area.
Anti-fungal shampoos contain anti-fungal medication and help in treating the infection while dips e.g., enilconazole and lime-Sulphur dips on regular basis are also helpful in treating the infection.
Environmental cleaning is important to curb the spread of infection. The easiest way is to limit access for the infected cat to rooms that are easy to clean.
Decontamination includes mopping or vacuuming the rooms on daily basis and using chemical disinfectant such as hypochlorite or glutaraldehyde to kill the spores.
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Preventing ringworm is a challenging task and involves a number of preventive measures. Fungal spores attack the skin and a healthy coat and skin is less likely to develop ringworm.
Nutrition is important in keeping the skin and coat healthy. If signs of unhealthy skin or coat appear, discuss with your veterinarian immediately.
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