Ask the Vets

Q: Last week I adopted two kittens, Pizza and Pepperoni. They are very cute and playful but I notice that both have formed a few bald scaly patches on their head. What could this be?

A: There are a number of possible causes for the hair loss, but the most likely is ‘Ringworm’. Ringworm is not a worm at all, but a fungal infection of the upper layers of the skin, hairs and nails. The name comes from the classical appearance of C-shaped red raised ‘ring’ marking the boundary of inflammatory lesions of the infection in people. The fungi responsible for ringworm belong to a specialized group known as dermatophytes, and these can cause disease in both humans and animals.

The lesions of ringworm in cats may be very mild or even undetected. The infection was most likely present when you first adopted the cats. The main sites for lesions are the skin on the head, chest, forelegs and along the ridge of the back to the base of the tail. These lesions are not usually itchy. Occasionally infection of the claws may occur also. Ringworm may sometimes cause a more generalized disease where a much larger area of the body is affected often with patchy hair loss.

A culture test and fluorescence under a special ultraviolet lamp diagnose ringworm. Because there are a number of causes of hair loss in cats these other causes may have to be ruled out by additional tests.

Treatment includes topical therapy (application of medicated creams, ointments or shampoos) and systemic therapy (administration of anti-fungal drugs by mouth). It is extremely important only to use preparations that have been specifically provided or recommended by your veterinarian for treatment of cats.

Treatment must usually be continued for a minimum of six weeks, and in some cases much longer therapy is required.

In addition, attention must also be given to cleaning the environment. Hairs infected with ringworm contain numerous microscopic fungal spores that can be shed into the environment.

Ringworm can be transmitted quite readily to humans (particularly children) and it is important to take appropriate steps to minimize exposure to the fungus while the cat is being treated

If any humans in the house develop skin lesions (small patches of skin thickening and reddening, typically sharply demarcated with raised scaly edges) early medical attention should be sought.

Ringworm in humans generally responds very well to treatment.

Good luck with the kittens!

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