10 Pictures of Ringworm in Cats + Veterinarian Advice

The excitement of owning a new kitten is quickly dampened when you realize that not only is your cat very itchy and losing hair, but your human family members have also developed red itchy scabs on their bodies. This is an all too familiar scenario as a vet and it becomes quite complex to treat highly contagious ringworm in cats. Fortunately, once a definitive diagnosis has been made, there are a variety of treatments available to win the battle against ringworm.

What is ringworm in cats? what do ringworm scabs look like? (with pictures)

Ringworm is a fungal infection that affects the skin in cats, as well as humans and other mammals. The name of the condition, ringworm, can cause confusion as one would assume that the infection is caused by a worm, but the name is misleading. There are a number of fungi that infect the skin cells, and they often form a reddish, round, itchy area of hair loss with a ring of scaly skin around the area. In humans, the ring of scaly skin can resemble a worm.

ringworm on cat's ear with hair loss and redness

What are the causes of ringworm in cats?

The scientific name for ringworm is dermatophytosis and the fungi that cause the lesions are dermatophytes. Whilst there are a number of dermatophytes that cause ringworm infection in cats, the most common fungus is Microsporum canis. Many cats will carry the dermatophytes on their skin without displaying symptoms and these cats may transmit the fungi to other cats in the household. They will also drop fungal spores with their normal skin cells and loose hair and contaminate the household.

ringworm seen on a cat's leg

Cats may be exposed to the fungal spores from direct contact with another cat or contact with the fungal spores in the environment. This environmental contamination with fungal spores can make it difficult to treat and control the infection. Fungal spores are resistant to treatment and may persist for up to 18 months in the environment. Most cats are naturally resistant to dermatophytes, but very young cats, geriatric cats or cats with suppressed immune systems may not be able to keep the fungal at bay and they will develop symptoms. Persian cats are more susceptible to ringworm than other cat breeds.

Some medications, e.g. cortisone or cyclosporin can suppress the cat’s immune system, making them more susceptible to ringworm. Viral infections such as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) or Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV) may also suppress the cat’s immune system.

Symptoms that indicate the presence of ringworm

Any change in the skin can indicate the potential presence of ringworm. Typically, cats with ringworm will:

  • lose hair in a patchy fashion
  • develop a scaly, red, inflamed and itchy area on the skin (“ringworm scabs”)

The most commonly affected areas are the face, ears, feet and tail. The fungus can also infect the nail beds and tail and may be confused with other skin conditions such as mange, miliary dermatitis, feline acne or “rodent ulcers”.

close up of ringworm infection in cat

Unfortunately, many other skin conditions can look very similar to ringworm, and it is impossible to ascertain what the cause is without seeing a vet and allowing them to do certain diagnostic tests to establish the cause of the skin condition.

skin conditions can look very similar to ringworm

When to call your vet

Whenever you notice a change on your cat’s skin it is important to have them checked by the vet. The vet will need to perform a few tests to get to the find the underlying cause of the ringworm and to treat it appropriately. Trying to treat your cat’s skin condition at home without being certain of the cause can worsen the skin condition and delay your cat’s recovery and may cause it undue stress. Ringworm is also contagious to other cats and to people and prompt, effective treatment will prevent others from getting infected.

allergic skin disease in a cat

signs of ringworm on a cat's neck

Pictures of ringworm & ringworm scabs in cats

What will your vet do?

Your pet will do a full examination including a history to determine if your pet has any underlying or risk factors. They will also ask questions regarding your cat’s diet and history of tick and flea control.

They will then examine your cat with a Wood’s lamp. This lamp uses various wavelengths of light to detect the presence of dermatophytes on the fur and skin. It is not 100% accurate in all cases and if they strongly suspect dermatophytes even though the Woods’ lamp test is negative, then they will take samples of hair for fungal culture.

purple wood lamp to diagnose skin disease in cats and dogs

Fungal cultures are helpful because they identify which fungus is causing the ringworm, but they can take up to 10 days to yield a result. The vet may start treatment whilst waiting for the result. Fungal PCR testing is a newer, quicker and more sensitive test that is variably available depending on your location. They may also do other tests such as skin scrapings and hair plucks to ensure that there are no other infectious agents causing the skin condition, e.g. mange mites or bacterial infections. If your cat is positive for ringworm then the vet may recommend testing for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV) because these are the two most common causes of a suppressed immune system.

If they still cannot establish a cause at this point, they may recommend a treatment trial or skin biopsies which are taken under anaesthesia.

Treatment for ringworm

There are three treatment routes that your vet will consider for your specific situation:

1. Topical – medications that are applied directly to the cat’s skin

a veterinarian treats a kitten for ringworm. with cotton swabs, the doctor applies ointment to the wounds.

2. Systemic – oral medications that are dosed to the cat, either in a pill or liquid form

3. Environmental- this can be critical to decrease the risk of exposure to fungal spores and to stop re-infection.

Whatever treatment route is used, it is important to note that it may take some time to get the infection under control and it essential to follow all instructions and to complete the treatment properly.

Topical treatments include lime sulfur dip and miconazole-chlorhexidine rise or shampoo. It is essential to dilute it as instructed and to allow for the appropriate contact time. The vet may also recommend that all the animals in the household are treated topically to destroy any fungal spores that they may be carrying. If there are only one or two small lesions, a topical anti-fungal ointment containing an anti-fungal such as miconazole or clotrimazole may be prescribed.

The most used oral medications are itraconazole and terbinafine. Griseofulvin is an older treatment that is not commonly used any more but can be very effective. All of these medications are available only with a prescription and in some cases the vet may have to compound them into an appropriate dose, particularly for kittens. There are various treatment protocols which range from daily dosing to once or twice weekly depending on the individual cat and the medication that the vet deems appropriate.

How to treat cats with ringworm at home

Whilst we would not recommend attempting treatment at home without seeing a vet first, it is essential to decontaminate the environment to get the infection under control. In most cases it is preferable to isolate the infected cat from other cats in the household.

  • Thorough cleaning of the environment including thorough vacuuming and steam cleaning of carpets and upholstery and disinfection of floors (using a dilute bleach solution or appropriate disinfectant as recommended by your vet).
  • All laundry should be washed twice and bleached if appropriate to the fabric. Fungal spores can survive in the environment for up to 18 months and thorough disinfection is essential to prevent re-infection.
  • All other pets in the household should be screened for dermatophytes by the vet and thoroughly bathed in an appropriate anti-fungal shampoo or dipped with an anti-fungal dip, to decrease the load of fungal spores that they may be carrying.
  • If you or any other person is infected then consultation with a doctor is required to obtain prescription treatment.
  • Practising meticulous hand washing and hygiene precautions after contact with the infected cat is essential.

Ringworm is highly contagious to other cats and to humans

Yes ringworm is highly contagious to other cats, especially if they are very young or geriatric. Unfortunately ringworm is also contagious to humans (known as a zoonosis) and to other animals in the household, for example dogs.

ringworm contagion from cat to human

More pictures of ringworm in cats

cat nose scabs due to ringworm infection
cat nose scabs due to ringworm


Ringworm on a cat
Cat with skin disease caused by fungus. Cat has been shaved and treat by vet at veterinary clinic


Ringworm on a cat's ears
Ringworm at ear cat

How long does it take for ringworm in cats to be eliminated?

Ringworm can be lengthy, frustrating and costly to treat due to the risk of environmental contamination and frequent re-infection. It can take 2 -16 weeks to thoroughly clear the infection. In animals with weakened immune systems, it may take even longer. Fortunately, ringworm is hardly ever fatal, but it is frustrating and time-consuming to treat and eliminate.





Ringworm at a glance

What is ringworm? Ringworm is a highly contagious, generally superficial fungal infection of the skin, fur and nails, caused by a fungus of the genus Microsporum and Trichophyton.How do cats become infected with ringworm? Infection occurs via direct contact with an infected animal or fungal spores which are in the environment on objects which commonly include grooming equipment, bedding, collars and ectoparasites.

How do you know if a cat has ringworm?

  • Circular patches of scaly, red lesions which start out small and increase in size
  • Areas of hair loss
  • Small pustules may be found in the lesion
  • Itchiness (occasionally)
  • The head, ears and tail are most commonly affected

Is ringworm contagious to humans? Yes, ringworm is zoonotic which means the infection can spread from cats to people or people to cats (and other pets).

Treatment: Oral antifungal drugs, medicated baths and/or medicated shampoos and dips. The environment must be
cleaned at the same time as the cat is treated.


Griseofulvin is currently the only registered drug to treat ringworm in cats, however, itraconazole, ketoconazole and terbinafine are all much more effective and quicker to cure the infection than griseofulvin.



Side effects

Itraconazole (Sporanox®)

This oral drug has overtaken Griseofulvin in its use to treat ringworm as it has fewer side effects. It prevents the growth of the fungus by preventing it from producing ergosterol, a component of the cell membrane, causing the contents of the fungus to leak out.

5 mg per/kg once per day for 7 days, stop for 7 days, repeat three times. Side effects are mild but may include nausea and loss of appetite.
Itrafungol oral solution

Itrafungol is an FDA approved oral solution which contains itraconazole (above).

5 mg (0.5 mL)/kg body weight/day for 3 alternate periods of 7 consecutive days, each time with 7 days without treatment in between. Salivation, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, depression and apathy may occasionally occur. These effects are usually mild.
Griseofulvin (Fulvicin®)

Griseofulvin inhibits fungal cell wall division by altering the structure and function of the microtubules. This allows the cat’s immune system to gain control and fight off the infection.

Systemic and topical treatments (listed below) are most effective when used concurrently.


Administer twice a day with a fatty meal.


  • Griseofulvin cannot be used in stud cats, pregnant queens, or females you plan to breed within two months of treatment, as it can cause birth defects.
  • Do not give griseofulvin to cats with FIV.
  • Pregnant women should not handle Griseofulvin.
Nausea, fever, lethargy, diarrhea, anemia. In rare cases, Griseofulvin can cause bone marrow suppression and liver disease in cats. If your cat becomes sick, seek veterinary attention immediately.

Other drugs include:

  • Ketoconazole (Nizoral®)
  • Terbinafine (Lamisil®)


Lime sulfur dips using a 30ml per litre concentration twice a week are the most effective. Drying of footpads, hair loss on the ears, drying of the coat and yellow discolouration in white cats are all documented effects of lime sulfur dips to be aware of.

Generally, lime sulfur dips are safe and highly effective to use as an adjunctive treatment for generalised dermatophytosis in cats.

Bathe twice a week for approximately two to four weeks. Lime sulfur dips can cause yellowing of the coat; however, this will fade in time.

These are safe to use on pregnant cats and kittens over 2-3 weeks of age.

Other topical treatments may include:

  • Enilconazole(1:16)
  • Accelerated hydrogen peroxide rinse (1:100)
  • Climbazole mousse
  • Miconazole (2%) shampoo

Ringworm vaccine

Produced by Fort Dodge, the Fel-O-Vax® MC-K vaccine is for healthy cats over four months of age. This vaccine is only effective for M. canis. Administration is as follows:

  • 16 weeks – 1st vaccination
  • 18 weeks – 2nd vaccination
  • 20 weeks – 3rd vaccination

Fel-O-Vax® MC-K is not available in all countries, including Australia.

Antifungal vaccines may be useful as an adjuvant therapy only.

Decontaminating the environment

Spores can remain in the environment for up to 18 months. The following disinfectants are effective against ringworm:

  • Bleach (sodium hypochlorite, calcium hypochlorite or sodium dichloroisocyanurate)
  • Virox, Accel – Accelerated hydrogen peroxide
  • TriGene-Didecyl dimethyl ammonium chloride, benzalkonium chloride, polyhexanide (biguanide)

Vacuum daily and if possible, throw out the vacuum cleaner bag. It is important to remove all cat hair from the environment. Vacuum under furniture, in corners. If you can’t throw out the vacuum cleaner bag, or have a bagless vacuum, empty the barrel (preferably outside), and wipe it out with a bleach solution.

Disinfect surfaces: Diluted bleach (1:10, one part bleach to ten parts water) applied twice over 24 hours to clean down all surfaces including floors, walls, windows, and ledges. Note: Inorganic material inactivates bleach. Mechanical cleaning is necessary to remove dirt before you apply the bleach solution.

Steam clean: Carpets and soft furnishings. The temperature of the water should be at least 110F to kill the spores.

Discard bedding and grooming equipment: If possible, if not, wash with an antifungal disinfectant.

Vents: Vacuum and disinfect. Fill a spray bottle with a 1:10 dilution of bleach and water and apply. Discard and replace air conditioner filters.

Treating ringworm in people

We highly recommend your first discuss your situation with your doctor. If you (or anybody in your household has ringworm), treatment with a suitable antifungal ointment or cream is likely necessary. You may need to apply 2-3 times a day to the affected area(s) for several weeks. Cover ringworm lesions with a plaster/band-aid to avoid spreading the infection to other people and pets. Wash bedding and towels regularly using an antifungal rinse and do not share towels with a person infected with ringworm.

A final note

Ringworm can be a frustrating infection to get rid of. Please remember that in most cases it is not life-threatening. Avoidance is always better than cure, particularly with ringworm.

Isolate new cats for two weeks, not only to see if ringworm rears its head but also other contagious diseases. Bear in mind though that even if you have taken precautions, cats can be carriers. 

Frequently asked questions

My kitten has ringworm, should I get rid of it?

No, ringworm is not serious to cats or people and treatment should cure the infection.

Can ringworm go away on its own?

Yes, it is possible but it can take many months for ringworm to clear up and in the meantime, any person or animal in or around the home is at risk of infection due to spores in the environment. 

Home remedies for ringworm in cats:

Unfortunately, there aren’t any safe or effective home remedies. If your cat has ringworm, it is important to use a veterinary prescribed anti-fungal medication to treat the infection.

Can I treat ringworm with apple cider vinegar or coconut oil?

Apple cider vinegar and/or coconut oil are not effective against ringworm. Your veterinarian can prescribe the most effective ringworm treatment for your cat.

Can I treat ringworm with an over the counter anti-fungal?

This is not recommended as human preparations may contain different concentrations than cat ringworm treatments. Clotrimazole is an over the counter ringworm treatment that can be used to treat ringworm in cats, but we strongly recommend that you seek veterinary advice due to possible side effects and drug interactions. Avoid contact with the eyes, ears, nose and mouth. Do not use on pregnant cats.

Medically reviewed by Dr Sam Kovac BVSC (MERIT). Director of medicine at the Lion’s Den Cat Hotel.


  • Dr. Ingrid DeWet, Veterinarian

    Dr Ingrid de Wet has been a veterinarian for over 10 years. She is part owner of Country Animal Clinic in South Africa. She has a Bachelor of Veterinary Science (BVSc) from the University of Pretoria (2009).

  • Julia Wilson, 'Cat World' Founder

    Julia Wilson is the founder of Cat-World, and has researched and written over 1,000 articles about cats. She is a cat expert with over 20 years of experience writing about a wide range of cat topics, with a special interest in cat health, welfare and preventative care. Julia lives in Sydney with her family, four cats and two dogs. Full author bio