What is ringworm?
Ringworm, despite its misleading name, is actually not a worm at all–it is a fungal infection of the skin and hair. This funky fungus preys on the young and immunocompromised, putting kittens at a high risk of infection when exposed. Fortunately, it is totally treatable and kittens can make a full recovery with care. Ringworm is zoonotic, meaning it is contagious to humans, but fear not: with the proper care and sanitization, it can be easily contained and treated to ensure that you and the other animals that share your home stay fungus-free!
What does ringworm look like?
Ringworm typically presents as circular patchy lesions, often seen around the face and paws. It can also present as mild hair loss, usually starting somewhere around the face, and isn’t always circular. It can sometimes be hard to spot ringworm, so keep a close eye on the kittens hair and coat to monitor for any changes. If a kitten has bald patches or dry, flaky skin, contact us right away.
The incubation period between exposure to ringworm fungus and the development of ringworm lesions usually ranges from seven to fourteen days; some cases may take up to 21 days before signs of infection develop. Although very rare, it is possible that the kittens you foster might end up with ringworm. Upon intake and before being sent into foster care, C.A.R.E. medical staff performs a woods lamp test (see below) on kittens to preemptively rule out ringworm, but keeping the incubation period in mind, there is always a chance your litter might have been exposed and they will show signs up to 3 weeks after you start fostering.
If you suspect your kittens might have ringworm, or notice ringworm lesions on yourself (click here for information on ringworm in humans), please contact the appropriate C.A.R.E. staff right away using our Support Contacts page.
Can my pets at home get ringworm?
Yes. Ringworm can be spread to your other household pets. This is why we stress the importance of keeping your foster kittens separated from your own animals for the entire duration of the foster period, and we recommend washing your hands after touching the foster kittens and vice versa.
How does ringworm spread?
During infection, thousands or millions of microscopic spores are produced around infected hairs and these are the main source of infection for other animals. Infected hairs and spores are shed into the cat’s environment so other cats may become infected either by direct contact with an infected animal or by exposure to a contaminated environment or object such as grooming tools, clippers or bedding. Spores in the environment can remain infectious for up to two years and are difficult to kill.
Spores will adhere to the skin and this can be the start of a new infection. Although intact skin is quite resistant to infection, any abrasion or damage to the skin will allow infection to develop more readily. Infection is more common in young cats (less than one year old), and in longhaired cats. Younger cats may have poorer natural skin defenses and a less well developed immune response and it is possible that long-haired cats groom less efficiently so trapping of spores may be easier and removing of them more difficult.
How is ringworm diagnosed?
A common method for detecting ringworm is to examine the skin under a black light, or a Wood’s lamp. Certain strains of ringworm will glow under a black light, so when you shine it on the kitten, you may see that their bald spots glow bright purple! We use caution with the black light method though, as not all strains of ringworm will glow, and some things will glow that are not ringworm, like certain food residue and fibers.
The most effective diagnostic method is a fungal culture called a Dermatophyte Test Medium or DTM. With these tests, the suspected lesions are brushed with a clean toothbrush, picking up samples of the fur and skin. The sample is then tapped into the DTM tray which can rapidly sporulate the fungus, if present. The DTM kit needs to stay in a warm, dark area where it will stay undisturbed. These tests can take up to two weeks to process–so it is best to start treatment right away if ringworm is suspected. Being proactive will speed up the process for you and the kitten.
It’s confirmed, my kittens have ringworm. Can I still foster them or help in any way?
Yes, and we would love your assistance! If you feel comfortable doing so, you can continue fostering the kittens and assist us with treatment. We can give you further details at that time.