Imagine adoption day. You have just brought home a brand new, adorable, fluffy, playful kitten and you are thrilled. As you play with your new buddy over the next few weeks, you start to notice that his ear is a little bumpy and a few hairs are missing. As the week progresses, you monitor this spot and it stays the same, but you notice that your kitten's belly has a very small patch of dry skin. The next week, some hair loss is noticeable on an ankle. Pull out a black light if you have one. Does your kitten glow? When you take your kitten to the vet, he is diagnosed with Ringworm. Welcome to the fungal jungle!
As a rescue, we have encountered many instances of ringworm this year. Of all the many illnesses and problems your kitten could have, ringworm is one of the least problematic, but one of the biggest nuisances. It is not a worm at all, but rather a skin infection that causes bald spots and hair thinning called lesions. The lesions do sometimes have a circle-like appearance, but this is not always the case. Once you have dealt with ringworm, it is easy to spot. If you are petting your kitten and you feel what could be a cut or scrape from playing too hard, look at where that spot is. Do the hair follicles flake off easily with a small patch of skin at the base? This is often the very first sign and it can easily be managed. If you do not catch it until it spreads, your kitten's face, ears, and feet will be the first places to be affected areas, but ringworm can appear anywhere on their body. In adults, it is more common on their ears, tail, and legs. Ringworm can spread to other mammals, including you, resulting in small itchy spots you can treat with an over-the-counter antifungal lotion or cream. You will want to quarantine your kitten in a bathroom or safe space while he is going through treatment. Please continue to pet and play with him! He is still your loving kitten, even if he is a little less fluffy. Just use gloves.
How do you treat ringworm? This is what we as a rescue have found most effective for us, but please consult your vet before beginning treatment. Your vet may suggest a sulfur lime dip, an antifungal shampoo, and/or oral medication. Every treatment is different - so be sure to carefully follow all instructions - but, generally, you will fill a sink/tub/bucket with water and some sulfur lime or shampoo solution (the dip will take your breath away so open some windows!) and dip your kitten in the liquid. You want to be sure to gently scrub and work the solution into the kitten's skin and hair as you would shampoo. Be careful to avoid their eyes, nose and mouth. You can use a sponge or towel to work the solution into spots on their face. Once done, you can pat dry the kitten so he's not dripping, but put him in a bathroom with a heat source and allow him to air dry fully. This process needs to be done about every 4 days. Meanwhile, the most popular oral medication, and what we use, is called Itrafungol. Use your vet's dosage and direction, but usually this medication is used for one week and off the next (repeated three times). Ringworm generally takes anywhere from 2-5 weeks to finish treatment, but it can take longer for stubborn spots. You will know success when you start to see new hair growth. Keep treating your kitten until he appears fully normal. You can also pull out your black light again and check for glowing spots (warning: not ALL ringworm glows). Your vet may want to do a final check to ensure you have conquered it all.
While there are a variety of treatments out there, this is the one that has been so very effective for us as a rescue. The dip essentially suffocates the fungus and kills it. This step, although stinky, is by far the most important being 60-70% of your treatment. You are treating this from the outside in, but you also should treat from the inside out (the oral antifungal drug is about 25% of your treatment). There are topical creams you can put on problem spots, but we encourage this ONLY as a small additional supplement to the other treatments.
For further information, please research The Kitten Lady on Facebook or YouTube. She has put out a handful of helpful videos about this topic, including The Ringworm Song for Kittens. And remember: always consult your veterinarian before beginning any medical treatment for your kitten.