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Ringworm is one of the most highly contagious diseases your cat can catch. Most people have heard of ringworm and more than 25% of cat owners have had some kind of experience with it, which makes it all the more surprising to find out how little most people actually know about it.
Ringworm (or dermatophytosis, or tinea) is caused by a fungus (usually Microsporum canis) and actually has nothing to do with worms. The infection causes irritation and discomfort to sufferers' skin, and can lead to patches of irritation and temporary hair loss. It's a pretty horrible thing to have to put up with but it's not life threatening and anything less than full recovery is unheard of, after appropriate treatment.
That said, it really is unpleasant and really does need proper treatment at the earliest opportunity!
The fungus spores can lay dormant for months, or even a couple of years, in bedding, carpets, toys, grooming equipment and any other nook or cranny. In fact almost anything you or your cat may come into contact with can harbour spores for a while, and they will stay there until they are cleaned up or a suitable host comes into contact with them.
Ringworm lives on the outermost dead layer of the sufferers' skin, hair and claws. Once picked up it only needs a small foothold, such as a cut or a sore, in which to produce it's hyphae (the thread-like root most funguses produce), which triggers the infection and skin irritation.
A healthy individual with good grooming stands a much better chance of avoiding ringworm, but all cats (and even all people) are susceptible.
Long-haired cats are more likely to miss some spores in their grooming, although on the whole they would stand little increased risk unless there is some other problem causing grooming to be less effective.
Most at risk are cats with pre-existing skin complaints, including eczema, flea allergies or external injuries. Cats with these conditions can provide an excellent springboard for a Microsporum canis spore to get going.
In these situations the symptoms of the ringworm can also be mistaken for a symptom of the pre-existing condition and it's not unusual for cases like this to be missed.
It's tricky to know for certain unless the classic symptoms of circular patches of irritation occur, which they often don't.
Only laboratory tests can tell you for sure, but skin irritations and patches of hair loss are an indicator that your cat might have ring worm, and any ongoing cases of these symptoms should be checked by a vet, whether you suspect ringworm or not.
Obviously the first thing to do is consult a vet for appropriate medical treatment. This will probably involve some medicated shampoo and possibly some tablets or an injection, but you must also make sure you follow a thorough cleaning regime around your home too.
Vacuum carpets and soft furnishings daily and incinerate the cleaner bags. Any toys, collars, grooming equipment or bedding that cannot be adequately washed and disinfected must be incinerated too.
It is also a good idea to restrict the cat's territory to the areas of the house that are easiest to clean, although it's your house and your time spent cleaning so that's up to you.
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