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8 Signs of Ringworm in Cats (With Pictures) – Vet Answer

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By Dr. Chantal Villeneuve

ringworm on cat's ears

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Dr. Chantal Villeneuve

MS BVetMed (Veterinarian)

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Ringworm is a fungal infection of the skin, affecting the skin along any part of the body, including the back, nose, nails, and ears. It is usually mild and causes few problems in healthy cats. Most will heal on their own, without treatment, but it can take a long time.

However, ringworm is contagious and can spread from cats to humans, dogs, rabbits, etc. This is why knowing if it is ringworm is beneficial, so everyone can protect themselves. Treatment can also help shorten the curative time.

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Ringworm Does Not Always Look Like a Ring

The most important thing to keep in mind is that ringworm does not always create a clear, round spot of infection. The edges of the spot can be irregular and jagged.

The edges can also be difficult to see—it can have poorly defined edges. Sometimes the edges are not true edges and simply fade away. Spots can come in all different shapes and sizes and can be the size of a dime, a dollar bill, or even bigger.

Ringworm has a lot of different looks. Below are some signs of it, and all of them can combine in unique configurations.

hepper cat paw dividerThe 8 Signs of Ringworm in Cats

1. Hair loss

close up of ringworm on cat
Image Credit: Nadya Bessonov, Shutterstock

The most common sign of ringworm is patchy hair loss. Sometimes the hair falls off but gets stuck and tangled in the surrounding hair, especially in long-haired breeds. The ringworm can then hide undercover for a long time.

All the hair does not have to fall off on the patch either. Sometimes the hair loss is patchy, or only 50% of the hair falls off. This looks like the hair is ‘thinning’.

2. Dry, flakey skin

Spots of scaly skin are also a common sign of ringworm. The skin loses its hair and then gets dry and flaky. The flakey skin can look like dandruff, especially if not all the hair has fallen off yet.

3. Itchy spots

cat scratching an itch
Image Credit: AlexanderDubrovsky, Shutterstock

Spots of ringworm are often itchy. It can be difficult to tell if a cat is itchy because they groom themselves. But if you notice your cat continuously scratching the same spot and that spot starts to look strange, be alert.

If a cat is especially itchy and sensitive, it can scratch itself too much and cause wounds. Overgrooming like this can then get infected with bacteria or yeast as well.

4. Red skin

Sometimes ringworm can make the skin red and inflamed. The reddened skin can vary from slightly pink skin to bright red. The skin may also feel extra warm since redness often goes hand-in-hand with heat. But you don’t want to touch a spot that might be contagious, so be sure to wash your hands thoroughly.

5. Blister-like sores

close up of cat lesion on ear due to ringworm
Image Credit: Yaya Photos, Shutterstock

Vets call these types of sores pustules. Just like a blister, a little pocket of fluid forms under a thin layer of skin and then bursts. Usually, in cats, the blister part does not last very long, and it bursts open almost immediately because they are so fragile. Then the sore, tender skin underneath is exposed.

Pustules can be very small and form right next to each other. This is what can make ringworm look like a ‘rash’, especially when the skin is also red.

6. Hyperpigmentation

Sometimes the skin can appear to change color and get darker. This is called hyperpigmentation. This is more common in severe infections where all the other changes listed above cause the skin to scar or darken.

7. Crusty skin

orange cat with crusty ear due to ringworm fungus
Image By: Ameena Matcha, Shutterstock

When a pustule bursts or when the skin is inflamed, it releases discharge, which dries and turns into crust. The crustiness can accumulate on the skin and get thick. Or a cat may groom it away before you notice it.

If the ringworm is in an easy place to lick, you might not even notice any crustiness, but if it cannot be groomed away, the crust can accumulate, such as on top of the head. If the crust gets thick and large, it can create a cover for yeast and bacteria to grow under and infect the tender skin underneath.

8. Infected nails

Ringworm can also infect nail beds. When this happens, the skin under and surrounding the nail gets infected and can be painful. It can even change the shape of the nail itself.

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All these signs of ringworm are also signs of other skin problems. And while ringworm is usually a mild problem, some other skin diseases can be quite problematic. So, it is very important to double-check with a vet if you think your cat has ringworm.

Ringworm can be confusing because it can be dry, flakey, and cool, but it can also be bright red, discharging, and hot—completely different looks. This can make it difficult to tell if it is ringworm or not at home, and even a vet will need to do tests.

To sum it up, a round spot with a rash might not be ringworm, but a strangely shaped patch of flaking skin and hair loss might be.

  • The Merck Veterinary Manual. Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck & Co., Inc. 2023

Featured Image Credit: Nataliia Dvukhimenna, Shutterstock

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