By simply mentioning ringworm, you can quickly see the stress level rise among cat people and shelters! Difficult to treat with a long incubation period, ringworm is one of the most complex infectious diseases affecting shelters. With the constant influx of animals, ringworm is often brought in with an animal, either purchased or returning from a show.
Both cats and dogs can get ringworm, or dermatophytosis
, but cats give us more trouble when we try to eliminate it. Even though we know how to treat fungal infections, cats can carry ringworm spores a long time. They'll break when their immune system is down, and often during queening.
There are thirty fungal species that can affect dogs, birds, and cats, but we usually only see the three main ones: Microsporum canis
, M. gypseum
and Trichophyton spp
. M. Canis causes 90% of the infections in cats, while dogs may have any of the above species. Ringworm is uncommon for dogs that live in colder climates. Though fungal infections thrive in warm, moist climates, animals can unfortunately get ringworm in any climate.
Fungal spores are the size of dust and they bury themselves in your pet's hair. In an animal with ringworm, the shedding hair is infective and is easily spread while grooming or medicating. Some people feel cats get subclinical infections, but it's more likely they are just mechanically carrying the spores while resisting the actual infection themselves. Fungal spores can only get a foothold on the skin if there is some trauma or abrasion - even small abrasions will do. External parasites also play a role, because scratching trauma sets the skin up for fungal infection. Once attached, the spores grow slowly and take 2-4 weeks to show clinical signs.
Ringworm shows up as patchy hair loss that's usually not itchy, and most animals feel little discomfort. Long-haired cats and Yorkies have reported increased ringworm cases. Young animals have more generalized infections, while older animals have more focal spot infections. Nursing kittens often get it on their face, ears, and front legs. Ringworm infections vary on dogs and puppies have typical ringworm spot lesions, but it's less common with adult dogs. Most lesions on adult dogs are typically mange or bacteria.
There are two main ways to determine ringworm. Fungassay® Ringworm Test Kits
are the best, but they're also difficult and time consuming. These require a hair sample from the infected area, and they provide a proper environment for the ringworm spores to continue growing. Determining a positive sample can take up to 2 weeks.
The other option is fluorescence, or a Portable Woods Lamp
. Unfortunately, only M. canis will show under black light, and topical treatments like iodine will also fluoresce. Because of this, untreated animals are the best options for black lights. Leave the lamp on for 5 minutes to obtain a stable, reliable wavelength. Infections should be a bright apple green - if not, it's a false fluorescence.
Treatment must be safe, effective, available, and easy to use. Lime Sulfur Dip
is an effective topical treatment both for eliminating infection and reducing the shedding of spores that lead to environmental contamination. Lime sulfur has a strong odor, but it dissipates soon after dipping.
Cats or dogs should not be wet or bathed first – just dip them. You do not need to immerse the animal in the solution, just be sure to wet the fur to the skin. The correct dilution is 8 oz/gallon of water. You can use a sink, a pump sprayer, or an ortho sprayer, depending on the size of animal dipped. Fractious cats can be put in a wire cage and dipped with a sprayer.
Lime Sulfur Dip
can be used on nursing queens and kittens as young as 4 weeks. Be sure to keep the animals warm until they are dry, especially kittens and puppies that can’t regulate their own body temperature. Wipe the dip off of the mammary glands before returning a queen to her kittens.
New ringworm spots should be treated immediately with VET BASICS® ChlorConazole™ Spray
to stop further transmission. It is also effective to treat current infections after shampooing or dipping.
A newborn's immune system is suppressed at birth, so that is the time they are most susceptible. Pregnant moms can be bathed with VET BASICS® Chlor 4 Shampoo
or VET BASICS® ChlorConazole™ Shampoo
before birth to stop the transmission of spores to the babies. Humane groups will find it helpful to bathe pregnant females that have an unknown history or are not in the best condition. Lime sulfur can be used if necessary, but it is stressful for the pregnant mom. Most important, most oral therapy is not safe for pregnant animals!
A combination of topical and systemic treatment is the most successful at eliminating fungal infections in catteries. Itraconazole is given orally once daily at 5 mg/lb for 21 days. Toxicity is rare in cats and dogs, so this drug is much safer than drugs used in the past. Itraconazole accumulates in the keratin of the hair and skin, so it treats from the inside out and supports the immune response.
Griseofulvin has a narrow margin of safety with significant side effects of bone marrow suppression in cats, so it should be avoided. It is safer and considerably less expensive in large dogs. Griseofulvin is used at 25 mg/lb/daily dose, divided between AM and PM, and it's often given for 50 days.
Ketoconazole is best reserved for dogs and not recommended orally for cats because of safety and it is not very effective orally. It is very effective topically and safe in both species. Dogs are dosed orally at 5 mg/lb/daily - once a response is seen you can give every other day until it's cured.
When it comes to the environment, remember that ringworm spores can and will be anywhere. Vacuum your carpets, furniture, and other fabrics frequently, and throw the bag away. Whatever disinfectant you use be sure it kills fungal spores! Disinfect all bedding, laundry, cages, and equipment with a disinfectant that has residual properties, such as Health Guard™ Laundry Additive & Disinfectant
. Airborne transmission is minimal if your disinfecting practices are adequate, though spores will still float in the environment.
In the nursery, Chlorhexidine Disinfectant
is very good on ringworm, plus it's safe and can be used in and around the kittens or puppies while nursing. If the mom was bathed before queening and you use Chlorhexidine in the nest box, you'll leave few options for the ringworm spores to establish themselves.
Ringworm is contagious to humans, so it's even more important to keep fungal infections under control! When we send a kitten or puppy home, it's important the fungal spores don't go with them. With the right disinfection program, we can prevent ringworm spores from colonizing your facility.
- Dr. B
The materials, information and answers provided through this website are not intended to replace the medical advice or services of a qualified veterinarian or other pet health care professional. Consult your own veterinarian for answers to specific medical questions, including diagnosis, treatment, therapy or medical
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