You've probably heard of tinea corporis before, even if the name isn't familiar. It's the parasitic fungus responsible for ringworm and athlete's foot. Ringworm infections don't make a big entrance, but you'll know something is wrong when your pet starts spending most of his free time scratching away.
No one likes fungal infections, and tinea corporis is no exception. It's found throughout the United States and is a leading cause of skin disorders in cat populations around the world, according to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Ringworm can live in the soil for weeks or months, but it only thrives on living hosts. The fungus consumes keratin, a substance produced by cat and human skin cells, to reproduce. Tinea releases spores that become seeds for new colonies of fungi.
If you do get ringworm from your cat, it may console you to know that you are not alone. Studies estimate that an infected domesticated cat has a 30 to 70 percent chance of transmitting ringworm to at least one member of the household, according to the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. If ringworm finds its way onto your pet, it won't take much to find its way to you. Petting an infected cat or even touching surfaces that he was laying on is enough. Ringworm can linger on lifeless objects for weeks and the fungus loves warmer humid environments, like bathrooms and indoor pools.
Red bumps and a slight skin irritation are heralds of unpleasantness when it comes it ringworm. The initial infections of fungal spores grow outwards into a rough ring shape with a distinct rim of discoloration. The rings becomes dry, scaly and itchy. It's hard to resist the itch, so you can be sure your cat won't hesitate to scratch away. Don't let him do it though. Scratching the rings is how the fungus spreads. Equip your kitty with a cone collar if you have to. You can't rely on visible symptoms to tell if your cat has ringworm though. Some cats carry and transmit the fungus without showing signs of infection, according to the ASPCA.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Even if you think your pet has ringworm, don't start looking through your medicine cabinet for antifungal medication without consulting a vet first. Skin allergies and bacterial diseases may look like ringworm infections, but they require a completely different treatment. If your vet pinpoints ringworm as the cause of your pet's frustration, he will prescribe an oral or topical antifungal medication appropriate for the situation. Keep your pet out of reach of children and other pets until the infection is gone.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Quentin Coleman has written for various publications, including All Pet News and Safe to Work Australia. He spent more tan 10 years nursing kittens, treating sick animals and domesticating semi-feral cats for a local animal shelter. He graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor's degree in journalism.