How to Tell if a Cat has Ringworm

Ringworm is a contagious zoonotic infection, which means it can spread from one animal to another animal and even to a human. The great news is that it is relatively straightforward to treat, and cats tend to recover from it entirely.

You can tell a cat has ringworm if they have thick patches of skin with hair missing. The defining feature is extreme itchiness. Cats who have ringworm may also have lesions in certain areas.

Ringworm can live on various surfaces, like your cat’s brush or food bowl. If you want to know how to tell if a cat has ringworm, check out this article.


What is Ringworm?

Ringworm is a fungal infection that feeds off the protein found in cats’ hair, skin, and nails. When a cat has ringworm, the fungus can usually be found on the missing, round patches of fur. It can be a serious infection, spreading to other animals, humans, and other cats. The contagious condition is thankfully not life-threatening, but cats do not feel comfortable with the infection.

It is a widespread misconception that ringworm is actually a worm, but that is not the case. The name came from the round red lesion circled by a scaly ring that often appears in humans who have ringworm. In cats, ringworm causes hair loss and is specifically caused by a fungus called tinea corporis.

How Will I Know if My Cat Has Ringworm?

Even though signs of ringworm can vary in appearance and severity, there are some common symptoms of ringworm in cats. If you discover the following symptoms in your cat, you should take them to the vet:

Hair Loss

Cats may have round, thick patches of skin with hair missing. Hair loss occurs when ringworm infects the hair shaft, which triggers hair loss.

Poor Skin and Coat Condition

There may be inflammation or scaling of the lesions and lusterless fur. There may be dead skin cells, which can cause dandruff, and hyperpigmentation may also be an issue.

Lesions in Certain Areas

Lesions on a cat are often located in specific areas:

  • Head
  • Chest
  • Front legs
  • Along the ridge of the back

These lesions are not always itchy initially, but they may become itchy if significant scaling or bacterial infection appears.

Infection of the Nails

Infection of the nails is sometimes a symptom of ringworm. Their claws can become rough, pitted, and a scaly base may occur, eventually resulting in the deformation of the nails.

Excessive Grooming

Infected cats will often groom themselves constantly because ringworm is very itchy and uncomfortable for cats. The cat may scratch at their coat frequently as well.

Can it Be Difficult to Determine if it is Ringworm?

It can be challenging to tell if a cat has ringworm because the lesions can be subtle or minor. Sometimes, ringworm can cause a more generalized disease where a much more significant part of the body is affected, presented as patchy hair loss.

Like long-haired cats, some cats may contract ringworm without any of the hallmark symptoms associated with the disease. These cats are referred to as asymptomatic carriers, and they may infect other animals or people, especially if they live in a house with other cats or in shelter environments. Even though these cats may not look ill, they are highly contagious.

How Do Cats Contract Ringworm?

Cats get ringworm when they intermingle with the fungus that causes the infection. The fungus can reside on various surfaces, including blankets, towels, and cat brushes. There are a plethora of ways that a cat can contract ringworm:

  • Sleeping next to or grooming an infected pet
  • Being brushed with the same tool used to brush an infected pet
  • Sleeping on the same bedding as an infected pet
  • Sitting on the same furniture as an infected pet has sat on

Any contaminated item may trigger ringworm in cats. Ringworm is more common in kittens and long-haired cats, because younger cats do not have a well-developed immune system, and long-haired cats are more likely to get the spores stuck in their hair.

How is Ringworm Treated?

Resolution of ringworm can take three to five years on average. Treatment is essential as it can help prevent the spread of the disease. Cats with ringworm are usually treated with topical and oral medication. You must remove environmental contaminants for treatment to work.

Topical Treatment

Topical therapy is often used in conjunction with oral medicine to treat ringworm. Treatment usually depends on how far the ringworm has spread. If it is only one or two patches of hair, shaving it in tiny sections may be the most straightforward answer.

If the condition has spread all through the body or your cat has long hair, you may need to fully shave your cat and wash them with special medicated shampoo about twice a week. Topical treatment will also be used for a few weeks to a few months. You can also get a special spray to help lessen your cat’s itchiness.

Oral Medication

Most of the time, treating ringworm will involve using an oral antifungal medication:

  • Griseofulvin
  • Itraconazole
  • Terbinafine

The response in each cat will vary. You should also be aware that the infection could recur if oral treatment is stopped too soon. Typically, treatment lasts about six weeks. It could be longer depending upon the symptoms.

You Must Clean and Disinfect

In addition to treating your cat’s ringworm, you also must thoroughly clean and disinfect the areas of your home that your cat uses:

  • Carpets
  • Furniture
  • Bedding

You will also need to clean items like cat brushes and food dishes. Your cat may need to be placed in a separate area of the house until they recover to minimize exposure between your cat, your family, and other pets in the home.


Ringworm is a contagious fungal infection that needs to be treated aggressively. If you suspect your cat has ringworm, take them to the vet immediately.

For those in the Mishawaka, IN area, Lincolnway Veterinary Clinic is here at (574) 256-1871 to answer any questions about ringworm in cats.

Recent Posts

About Lincolnway Veterinary Clinic

Lincolnway Veterinary Clinic is a full service, AAHA accredited veterinary practice located in Mishwaka, Indiana. In addition to general wellness care like vaccinations and wellness exams, we also provide holistic veterinary care such as acupuncture and a variety of alternative medicine options.