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C2003-20

Dear Christopher Cat

We just learned that our new cat has ringworm.  What can you tell us about this skin disease?

Christopher Responds

Despite the name, ringworm is caused by a fungus, not a worm.  The medical term is dermatophytosis.

The fungus lives on the hair and in the hair follicles, so the most common sign of infection is hair loss. The areas of hair loss may be circular or irregular, and the skin may or may not be itchy.

Some cats, especially long-haired cats, may be asymptomatic carriers who can transmit the fungus even though they have normal hair coats.

Cats become infected through contact with fungal spores from an infected animal’s hair or dander – by, for example, sharing a couch with a cat with ringworm.  Some species of ringworm also live in the soil.

The disease is diagnosed by culturing hair and flakes of skin.

Treatment includes shampoos and dips (which are more effective on long-haired cats when they are clipped) and sometimes oral medication. 

It’s also important to wash or discard your cat’s bedding and vacuum the carpets and furniture, because spores may remain infective for many months.

People – especially children – can also get ringworm, so it’s important to see your physician if you develop any skin lesions.

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