Ringworm is not actually a worm, but a fungal disease that affects non-living tissue which contain keratin such as skin, hair and nails. The fungus lives in the soil, on animals or humans. Infections in humans or other animals (such as cats or dogs) occurs when there is a minor break in the skin or exposure to ongoing moisture and damage.
Young, elderly, poorly nourished or ‘sickly’ animals (poor immune system due to disease or medication) are most at risk. For cats, the risk increases for long-haired varieties. Ringworm infections are likely to occur during hot and humid conditions, crowding (such as found in shelters and catteries), poor management practices and mixing new animals on arrival.
Ringworm spreads rapidly. It is a zoonotic disease which means that it can spread from cats to humans. It is important to remember, however, that ringworm is treatable and that infected animals do not need to be euthanased. Although humans may be infected by animals such as cats, other common sources of human infection include rich garden soil and other humans.
Cats can become chronic carriers of the disease, infecting others without showing any clinical signs, except during periods of stress. Cats with clinical signs have circular areas of hair loss, scaling of the skin and a classic red ‘ring’ lesion on hairless areas. The condition can be in one area or all over the body. It is not itchy. Surrounding hairs become infected and can break off due to brittleness.
Infected cats have most likely caught the disease directly from other infected animals, or indirectly from the environment, as fungal spores shed from animal hairs or skin cells can survive for up to 52 months.
After receiving a diagnosis that your cat has ringworm, you should segregate your cat from other animals in the household and practise additional hygiene, such as hand-washing after touching your cat.
Your veterinarian will advise you about the best treatment options based on the severity of the condition.
Your veterinarian will also advise you on how to prevent the spread of ringworm to any other animals, to yourself and to other humans living in the household. If you want information on symptoms in humans, or what extra precautions should be taken if you are at risk of being infected, seek advice from your doctor.