How do you know if an animal has ringworm?

People ask this question on the internet. Ringworm is not that uncommon in domestic cats and it is very easily transmitted between cats and from cats to people. I’ll answer the question with reference to domestic cats.

You probably know that ringworm is not a worm but a plantlike fungal growth. Typically the ring formation of a ringworm infestation is not always seen especially in cats. You may see scaly patches, irregular hair loss or just a few broken hairs around the face and ears. You may also see scaly patches and irregular hair loss on the foot of the cat.

Cat Ringworm. This case is unusually clear and obvious. Sometimes you'll just see rough areas of skin under thinning fur. And the nose might be affected.
Cat Ringworm. This case is unusually clear and obvious. Sometimes you’ll just see rough areas of skin under thinning fur. And the nose might be affected.
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In fact, cats can carry the fungus without showing any apparent infection. It is hard to see. I think that with respect to cats the best way to see whether your cat has ringworm is to look around the face and ears to see whether there is any irregularity in the fur in that area and by gently pulling back the fur to have a look at the skin to see whether you can see any crescent-shaped areas of inflammation of the skin. My former cat, Charlie, had ringworm at the base of his tail. The fur around the ring worm was missing so I could see the red patch of inflamed skin in a curved shape. It was only in this areas or that is what appeared to be the case.

The authors of a well-known book on home veterinary care1 state that sometimes ringworm in cats does not present clear signs and symptoms. It can invade the cat’s paws causing irregular shaped claws.

Ringworm can provoke the cat to lick and scratch himself because the area may become itchy. If you see this it should provoke the question as to why your cat is engaging in this behaviour. There are of course other reasons than ringworm but ringworm is one of the potential reasons.

It is said that mild cases of ringworm resulting in hair loss and some scaliness often looks like demodectic mange.

Even veterinarians might find it difficult to diagnose ringworm in a cat which indicates that it can be tricky. They might use ultraviolet light or take skin scrapings or fungal cultures to make a more certain diagnosis.

This article is not intended to replace veterinary treatment. It can never replace good veterinary treatment. Cat caretakers should be observant about their cat’s behaviour and when it becomes unusual or abnormal they should ask whether it is due to an illness or infection of some sort and seek veterinary assistance.

1. Cat Owners Home Veterinary Handbook

1 thought on “How do you know if an animal has ringworm?”

  1. My current cats had ringworm when they were kittens. It started on the ears in my girl and the face of my boy, but then there were legions on the paws as well. The worst was cleaning the house…

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