Every cat owner’s nightmare is noticing that their cat suddenly has an infection and is no longer acting like themselves. Ringworm, a particularly contagious type of fungal infection, can seemingly appear overnight, leaving itchy, raw spots on your cat and potentially infecting other humans and animals in your home.
If you suspect your cat has ringworm, you will need to quarantine them for treatment and begin thoroughly cleaning your home in order to eradicate the source of the infection. In this article, we will discuss how long your cat needs to be quarantined, the potential sources of ringworm, and the cleaning steps you need to take once your cat has been diagnosed with ringworm.
- What Is Ringworm?
- Steps to Take When Your Cat Has Ringworm
- How Long Does It Take for Ringworm to Be Cured?
- Ensuring You and Your Cat’s Health
What Is Ringworm?
Despite its name, ringworm is actually not any type of worm or parasite; it is a fungus. This fungus releases spores that then find their home in the dirt or on the skin of humans and animals. There are different strains of this fungus that may live on cats or dogs exclusively, and some that will exist on your pets without detection.
Ringworm spores are spread through contact or through air currents and dust, and can be picked up from outside and brought into homes, which is how most cats end up with the infection.
How Do Cats get Ringworm?
That being said, it often does take more than just the presence of ringworm fungal spores to cause an infection in your cat. When combined with lower immune systems, existing disease, old or young age, or stress and overcrowding, it is more likely that a cat will develop a ringworm infection (this is also why ringworm is so prevalent in shelters and animal hoarding situations).
Long-haired cats are also more likely to contract ringworm, as their coats make it harder for them to groom more thoroughly, and can make it easier for ringworm spores to hide in the coat and reach their skin.
Once your cat comes into contact with ringworm spores, and they survive grooming and sunbathing, the spores will invade the cells inside the hair shaft and skin, feeding off the keratin found there, and multiplying, causing a full blown infection.
As the infection grows, more spores and dead hair and skin cells will be shed into the environment, creating the potential for a reinfection cycle.
Ringworm Symptoms to Look Out For
There are several symptoms you can look out for in your cat or kitten that may indicate the presence of ringworm. It is important to note that true diagnosis of a ringworm infection can only be made using a fungal culture panel performed by a veterinarian.
- Hair Loss: This occurs due to the spores feeding off keratin in the cat’s hair, resulting in the dead hair and additional spores being shed into the environment. Hair loss can occur in a symmetrical pattern, but it may also be pattern-less.
- Lesions: Another noticeable sign of ringworm, lesions appear raw, crusted, or scaling, and are the result of skin irritation and skin loss as the infection feeds on the cat’s skin.
- Nail Infection: A rarer sign of ringworm, this occurs when the infection takes place exclusively around the nails. Nails will look crusty or greasy.
- Itchiness: This occurs at varying degrees, with some cats being extremely itchy to the point of harming themselves and some cats not showing any sign of itchiness.
- Hyperpigmentation: Ringworm infection can cause a darkening of the skin in some cats, though this is not a very common sign.
Keep in mind that humans can also develop ringworm from being in contact with a cat who has the infection. If your cat is confirmed to have ringworm, you should look out for symptoms of ringworm infection in humans and take appropriate medical precautions.
Why Is Quarantine Necessary for Cats With Ringworm?
The spores that lead to a ringworm infection are highly contagious and very fast moving. Once your cat contracts an infection, spores and dead skin cells will begin shedding off of them at an alarming pace, leading to potential contamination everywhere your cat walks, sits, or sleeps. This can create a cycle of constant reinfection and make your cleaning duties incredibly difficult, as you will need to repeatedly sanitize everywhere your cat has been.
Quarantining your cat can make the entire treatment and necessary cleaning procedures much easier, as your cat is now contained to a smaller area that you have full control over. This will help you care for your cat and sanitize their surroundings much more effectively, leading to lower exposure rates for others in your home and a faster recovery for your cat.
Cats should be quarantined for at least 2 to 4 weeks while being treated for ringworm.
Steps to Take When Your Cat Has Ringworm
If you suspect your cat has ringworm, you should be taking them to the vet to get their diagnosis confirmed. However, before and after their appointment (with guidance from your vet), you can take these steps to care for your infected kitty.
One of the most important steps of caring for your cat, quarantine is essential in stopping the spread of infection to other people and animals in your home. A safe quarantine space will be easier to clean and help you consolidate your cat’s treatment into one place.
Make sure the room that you choose to isolate your cat in is large enough that they will not feel trapped when inside; this could be a spare bedroom, a spare bathroom (if it is large enough), or a comfortable basement area.
Set your cat up with their litter box, food and water bowls, bedding, and toys – even though your cat is in quarantine, they will still need enrichment and mental stimulation. Make sure that the bedding and toys are easily washable, and you should be sanitizing these items with a pet safe cleaner frequently in order to prevent ringworm from spreading to it and reinfecting your cat.
Extensive cleaning is the key to properly eradicating a ringworm infection. Deep clean your entire house while your cat is in quarantine; shampoo carpets and bedding, disinfect counters, and wash all clothing, sheets, and bedding with hot water and bleach. Soak grooming equipment in detergent and regularly wash out the food and water bowls of other animals in the home. You should be vacuuming every few days to catch any stray spores.
Cat trees will likely need to be thrown away, as these are hard to fully disinfect.
In your cat’s quarantine room, you should be wearing gloves and rubber shoes when interacting with your cat, in addition to long-sleeved shirts and pants that you can immediately wash in hot water after leaving the quarantine area.
Vacuum and sanitize the quarantine area every few days, including washing out food and water bowls, and completely clean the litter tray every week. You should also be wearing gloves when scooping and changing the litter.
Any toys that your cat comes into contact with should be washed on a daily basis with a pet safe cleaner or disposed of if they are a one-time toy. All pet bedding and clothing or sheets in the room need to be washed every few days with bleach and hot water.
It may seem like overkill to clean this deeply, but ringworm spores can linger on surfaces for up to 18 months, causing reinfections or potentially infecting humans in your home. It is important to effectively get rid of every last spore to keep your home safe and to help your cat heal as fast as possible.
Treating ringworm infections can be done a number of ways. Most often, an approach that combines oral medications along with topical therapy (such as anti-fungal shampoos) is advised. If there are other pets or animals in your home, you may need to apply topical therapy to them as well in order to prevent any future ringworm infections. Cats with long hair may need to have their fur clipped to completely remove the presence of spores; your vet will advise you on this.
While your cat is in quarantine, make sure to keep up with any medication schedule assigned by their vet. You may need to give routine baths (with proper protection to stop you from becoming infected) or treat your cat with a lime sulfur dip in order to soothe their skin and treat the visible signs of infection.
Again, your vet will advise you on the best course of action here. It is not recommended to purchase anti-fungal shampoos and dips on your own and start randomly applying them to your cat, especially if their ringworm has not yet been confirmed by a fungal culture.
How Long Does It Take for Ringworm to Be Cured?
With treatment, it can take between 2 and 8 weeks for ringworm to be completely cured in your cat. Most cats show signs of improvement and are no longer infectious around the 2- to 4-week mark, which is why most cat quarantines can be ended around this time.
Your cat will need a revaluation at the vet after 4 weeks of treatment to determine the level of progress your cat is making, and will likely need regular fungal cultures at future vet appointments for the next year or so to confirm that the ringworm is permanently gone.
Will Cat Ringworm Cure Itself?
If left to their own devices, healthy cats will typically be able to fight off a ringworm infection by themselves. This process takes about 3 to 5 months, and it is not something you want to actively encourage if you have a cat with ringworm.
In 3 to 5 months, your cat could have spread ringworm to every member of your household and can be spreading the infection outside, if they are an outdoor cat.
Additionally, while ringworm is not serious most of the time, it can be a dangerous infection for very old or young cats, or for a cat with immune issues or a preexisting medical condition.
Furthermore, you shouldn’t want your cat to suffer for that long! With treatment and proper precautions, your cat should be feeling like themselves within 2 to 4 weeks – much better than waiting 3 to 5 months for your cat to potentially cure themselves.
Preventing Future Infection
As we discussed above, ringworm spores can lay dormant for up to 18 months. This means that you will need to consistently deep clean and vacuum your home over this time period in order to prevent another infection of ringworm.
You will likely also need to take your cat to regular vet appointments and have fungal cultures performed to confirm that ringworm is no longer on your cat.
In the future, make sure your cat is fully groomed, especially if they have long hair, and make sure to take proper precautions when introducing a new cat or kitten into the household. If your cat frequently plays outside, make sure to monitor them for signs they may have contracted ringworm again.
Ensuring You and Your Cat’s Health
Ringworm infections are no fun to deal with, and this tiny spore can add an extreme amount of stress to you and your cat’s life. If your cat has unfortunately contracted a ringworm infection, the best thing you can do is immediately take them to a vet for evaluation and then begin the arduous process of deep cleaning your home, quarantining your cat, and providing treatment.
It may not be an easy process, but with diligence and patience, your cat can make a full recovery and you can take confidence in knowing that your home is clean and ringworm-free.