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C2007-41

Dear Christopher Cat

Two days after we adopted a shelter kitten, our veterinarian gave him a clean bill of health. Ten days later, the kitten was diagnosed with ringworm. How did the shelter and our veterinarian miss it?

Christopher Responds

Ringworm is a fungal infection we cats pick up from infected animals or the environment.

Typically, cats with ringworm have patchy hair loss where the fungus invades hair follicles.

Less commonly, infected cats display beautiful hair coats, like your kitten’s. These asymptomatic carriers, often long-haired cats, can nevertheless spread the infection to other animals, including people.

Ringworm isn’t common enough to warrant routine testing of every cat that appears normal. Moreover, testing requires 10 to 14 days, necessitating longer stays in isolation.

The test is lengthy because a suspected ringworm carrier is identified through a fungal culture. The veterinarian brushes the entire hair coat with a sterile toothbrush and transfers the hair and dander to a culture plate.

If the cat has ringworm, the fungus will grow on the culture plate. The veterinarian examines the fungal growth under the microscope to make a definitive diagnosis. Fortunately, ringworm is treatable, and recovered cats usually have no further problems with it.

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