How to Get Rid of Ringworm on a Kitten

We adopted a kitten and found out she had ringworm, Microsporum canis to be exact. This is how we discovered & cured it!

We adopted an 8 week old kitten from a Craig’s List poster that had a ringworm infection.  We took her to the vet for the ringworm, vaccinations, de-worming, etc… and fungal cultures came back positive for Microsporum canis.  Ringworm is a fungus that infects the skin.  In humans, it usually appears like a “cigarette burn” – a raised red circle with a lighter center.  In animals, it often shows up on the head, tips of ears, etc.  It is incredibly difficult to get rid of in my experience, extremely contagious, and will spread if not treated.  Due to how difficult it is to get rid of & how contagious it is, a lot of shelters kill infected animals; this shelter euthanized upwards of 350 animals due to ringworm.  And many no kill shelters reject such animals.

In the chronological order (veterinarian prescribed / recommended to us by our vet – however, you should follow the advice of your vet)…

1.  Cleaning.

I disinfected every room the kitten had access to, her toys, the walls, even the ceiling – everything.  Ringworm spores can re-infect a cat even months after a cat is “cured” so it’s very important to clean.

  • I put the kitten in a large dog kennel cage on our balcony.  The cage was the largest I could find in the local pet store and easily fit food, water, a litter pan, towel for her to lay on, and left enough room for her to stretch & move about.  I did this because I didn’t want our kitten breathing any fumes from cleaning, and I tried to work fast.  When I had to take a break from cleaning, I’d spend the time with her.
  • The vet told me to clean any area she was in with bleach, but he didn’t go into more detail than that.  Every other day… I used a 50/50 bleach/water solution with soap to scrub the floors, walls, doors, and ceiling.  I rinsed it with a 50/50 bleach/water solution.  Let it dry.  Wet all the surfaces with 100% bleach solution.  Let it dry & air out the fumes (open windows).  Wipe down all surfaces with rubbing alcohol.  It sounds like a lot, but it’s really pretty fast- I used large, cheap sponges so I could just throw them out after each use & kept the area well ventilated so it dried fast.
    • Some studies have shown that a 10% bleach solution is as effective as a higher % bleach solution; however, I wouldn’t go below 10%.
    • One application of a 10% bleach solution will NOT eliminate all of the spores.  You can expect it to get between 70% and 80% of spores on surfaces that you cover.
    • Good ventilation is important.  I made myself sick a couple of times from breathing fumes.
    • Use disposable gloves.  It saves your skin.
  • Every day… I wiped down surfaces with a 50/50 bleach/water solution.  And anytime I saw loose cat hair, I made sure to clean extra well.
  • Every other day, I’d also soak her toys in bleach then rinse them with water really well.  After a week or two, I’d just throw out the toy and replace it.  If the toy couldn’t be bleached, I just threw it out.
  • I threw out her cat bed.  I didn’t feel like I could get all of  the spores in it because it was a fluffy wool bed.  Instead, I just gave her several towels to sleep on.  That way I could just wash the towels in bleach/soap (separate from our clothes), & I also hoped the heat from the dryer would kill some spores.
  • Once a week, I would vacuum other areas of our place that the cat didn’t have access to.  I did that because I was afraid my husband or myself could passively transfer spores from one room to another just by walking around.  I put a 10% bleach solution in the rinse water for the steam vacuum.  It wasn’t recommended in the manual, but I did it anyway and nothing broke.  (Your vacuum might not be so hardy.)  However, I did end up with some bleach spots on the carpet; I plan on dying those. 
  • I replaced all air filters.  Air filters for heaters/ACs or air purifiers can pick up spores and send them back out into the air later.  For removing ringworm from a shelter environment, it’s recommended that they clean the duct work for heating/ac.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t reach all of the duct work.
  • Washed rugs weekly.
  • Wiped dry surfaces with a swiffer cloth; our vet said it would pick up loose hairs & spores.  I’m not sure how effective it was though because I was cleaning so much with the bleach, etc.
  • Wash your hands every time you go into the cat’s room(s) or touch the cat.

2.  Trim the kitten’s nails.

Trimming the nails helps prevent the cat from scratching so deeply (deep scratches help ringworm spores get into the skin).  Your vet can show you how.  It’s pretty simple.  There are special nail clippers that are similar to scissors except at the end.  You just clip off the tip of the nail- be sure not cut into the quick (the area with blood vessels, etc).  If you hold your pet’s paw up to a light, you can see were it is.  You don’t want to cut right up against it either because the nail clippers will splinter the nail a bit.  Make sure there’s enough room so you don’t damage the quick area at all.  If you do, it’s painful & can bleed. 

3.  Disinfectant shampoo

Bathe the kitten 2-3 times a week as directed.  We did this for three weeks (until the fungal cultures came back positive).  This shampoo seemed to make absolutely no difference.  Our kitten still itched a ton and continued to lose hair.

4.  Miconazole lotion.

We applied this daily on the infected areas.  Eventually, this cleared up the areas that were well saturated.  The problems with this approach were:

  • It only works on the areas you apply the lotion.  Our cat had an additional spot of ringworm on her foot from scratching at the ringworm on her head.  Our vet didn’t notice it; luckily we saw it but how many other spots remained unseen?  Any spot we didn’t see, wouldn’t get treated and would remain infected.
  • Cat hair grows fast and the hair soaks up the lotion.  This makes it very difficult to saturate the skin with the medication.  Shaving the cat creates micro-abrasions in the skin and can actually help the ringworm spread according to our vet.  Our vet shaved only the worst areas, but within a few days, the hair had grown back a lot.  And  this treatment is very slow.
  • This treatment takes weeks to show improvement.
  • The medicine stinks and our kitten hated it.  It smells sort of like rubbing alcohol.
  • It did NOT stop the spread of ringworm in our case.  Probably because the vet & us missed an infected spot.  It only cleared up the most saturated areas.
  • Our kitten also had a spot of ringworm directly above her eye and treating it was very, very difficult.  It just wasn’t easy to get the entire ringworm area without getting any in her eye.
  • Our vet told us that it could take as long as a YEAR to be completely rid of the ringworm.

 5.  Miconazole shampoo.

We bathed our kitten 3 times a week with this and followed directions exactly.  It may have slowed the spread of ringworm, but it definitely did not stop it.

—————-

At this point, our vet shaved infected areas again so we could apply lotion more effectively.  His assistant brushed the hair off into a trash can.  I walked outside the exam room into the lobby; I could still see in the room while I was paying because the door was open.  The next lady was told to bring her dog into the exam room, and she placed her dog on the same exam table.  No one disinfected the table between our ringworm infected cat and her dog.  Ringworm is highly contagious.  It can spread to humans, dogs, etc.  When I saw they didn’t wipe down the table with a disinfectant like bleach between animals, I decided to change vets.  If they let that woman expose her dog to ringworm, I had to wonder – what am I exposing my kitten to here?  I called around until I found a vet that had good reviews and sounded good.  I visited the vet’s office, asked if they disinfect the table between animals, etc.  Then I brought my kitten to the new vet and showed this vet all of her “records” in the form of receipts & explained how effective each treatment seemed.  The following was recommended by our new vet…

—————

6.  Quarantine the cat to one room.

The room should be:

  • Well ventilated(airflow from the room to the outside world).  You could put a fan in the window to accomplish this.
  • Have non-porous surfaces.
  • Dry / Not humid.  Ringworm spores survive better in a moist environment.
  • Seal vents
  • Remove objects you can’t disinfect regularly (upholstered furniture, fluffy cat toys/beds, etc), etc.
  • If you have more than one animal, don’t let the healthy ones into the quarantine area or near the infected animal.   Handle/feed healthy animals first, then the sick animal(s).  Wash your hands after handling infected animal(s).

7.  Lime – Sulphur Dip.

Things that will make it easier:

  • A large, plastic tub to catch the dip as it runs off of the cat.
  • Smaller bucket to hold the dip solution.
  • Disposable plastic gloves.  (The dip stains your skin, and you’ll get a ton on your hands just from holding the cat.)
  • Large Measuring cup.  (So you get the sulfur concentration correct & also so you have a cup to pour the dip over the cat.)
  • Spray/squirt bottle.  (It’s handy for getting particularly hard to reach spots such as under our kittens mouth/chin area.  I put it very close to our kitten’s skin and gently squirted the dip onto the area; she didn’t seem to mind it.)
  • Elizabethan collar / Cone.  (The E-collar prevents the cat from licking off the dip before it can dry.  If a cat licks up too much dip, it can become nauseous.)
  • Towels.
  • Old clothes.

“Dipping” the cat…  Follow the directions your vet gives you.  This is what we did…

  1. Measure the appropriate concentration and mix it in a bucket.  Use warm water (our kitten liked warm water, but hates cold water).  Directions are on the bottle.
  2. Put 1 cup of the solution into a spray bottle.
  3. Bathe cat in a regular bath.  I used disinfecting & miconazole shampoo for this part.  Rinse.
  4. Hold or set the wet cat into the larger tub. 
  5. Do not get the dip in the cat’s eyes or ears.
  6. Slowly scoop out the dip with the measuring cup and pour it on the cat.  I would do one cup over the worst ringworm spots, then 1 cup on her hips/back, 1 cup on her shoulders/back, 1 cup across her chest, 1 cup across her tummy, etc. And repeat until there’s no more fresh dip left.  (It was easier for me to get her chest and tummy if my husband held her, but I’ve done it alone as well.)
  7. Take the spray bottle and get any area that you couldn’t get by pouring.  This might be her chin, top of her head, above & below her ears, etc.
  8. Finally, I’d dip her feet in the run off dip in the tub.  I did that because she scratched the ringworm areas so much; I wanted to make sure I got her feet/nails well.
  9. Snap on the E-collar to prevent her from licking the dip off.
  10. Do not dry off the cat or rinse off the dip.  Allow it to dry on the cat’s coat.
  11. Get ready to clean.  She splattered everything when she “shook” off the water/dip solution from her coat.  Keeping her in the deep tub for the first shake or two greatly reduced the amount I had to wipe off of walls, etc.

This stuff froze the ringworm in it’s tracks!  It was finally no longer spreading and popping up in new areas.  The benefit of doing this treatment was that it treated the whole animal- you didn’t have to worry about missing one little tiny spot.  However, the large ringworm infected areas seem to be healing very slowly, and she was still scratching those areas a lot.

The drawbacks to this

  • It stinks.  It smells like rotten eggs.
  • It stains everything.  Jewelry, clothing, skin, linoleum, porcelain, etc.  You can read the back of the bottle.  There’s pretty much nothing it won’t stain.
  • You can’t let the cat drink it or get it in the eyes, ears, etc.
  • Clean up is difficult.  If you clean up any splatter or spills quickly, it’s less likely to stain (it usually didn’t for us).  However, if you missed some splatter & allowed it to sit and dry on the surface…  it will be much more difficult to remove.  To dispose of  the used dip, we poured it down the drain with a lot of water running at the same time.

8.  Oral Medication – Terbinafine.

1/2 of a 250mg tablet every 24 hours for 2 weeks.  But I’m sure that would vary by cat.  We broke the pills in half by hand.

  • To get her to eat the pill, we tried “pill pockets.”  They’re little, smelly cat treats that you insert the pill into.  Show the cat the treat, get her excited to get it, and give her an empty one.  Repeat with another empty one.  Then tease her with one with the pill hidden inside it.  And finally give her the pill/treat.  The goal is to get her excited and eat it quickly before she realizes there’s a pill inside.
  • Unfortunately, the above method only worked twice for us.  After that, she completely refused that type of treat – even the empty ones.
  • After that, we had to “pill her manually” as the vet put it.  Gently hold the cat and place the pill at the back of her mouth.  If I didn’t put it far enough back, she’s spit it out.  But eventually we got the hang of it, and she swallowed ok.  I’d always give her a treat (not a pill pocket) after she swallowed a pill.

The Terbinafine worked like a miracle.  After a few days, she stopped scratching, and the lesions began to look a lot better.  All of  this took *months* to do- roughly 9 months.

After all of this, I cleaned the quarantine room again.  And I waited two more weeks to make sure she didn’t show any new ringworm lesions.  She appeared fine, itched much less (a normal amount I think), and her hair was growing back.  Now she roams everywhere and seems to be completely ringworm free :)

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