Watching your beloved cat slowly lose chunks of hair can be disturbing, to say the least. You probably want to figure out why their cat is losing hair. However, one of the most common causes of hair loss in cats is also one of the most overlooked: ringworm.
What Is Ringworm and How Does It Cause Feline Hair Loss?
Ringworm has a somewhat deceptive name, and does not involve any kind of parasitic worm (unlike heartworm, another common health problem in cats). Ringworm is actually a type of fungus, which is transmitted via spores that fall from the skin of infected humans or animals. These hardy spores can survive for years without a host, and can infect your cat through any small cut or minor abrasion in its skin.
Once ringworm infects a cat, it causes inflammation and lesions to appear in and around the initial infection site. In humans, these lesions generally take on a circular appearance, giving the condition its name. In cats, the infected portions of skin are more likely to take on a grey, scaly appearance, although feline ringworm infections can take on a variety of appearances.
These inflamed, damaged portions of skin can become intensely itchy, causing your cat to scratch compulsively at the affected areas. This is what causes the patches of isolated hair loss characteristic of feline ringworm.
What Should You Do If Your Cat Has Ringworm?
If your cat is suffering from hair loss, and you believe ringworm may be the cause, you should try to avoid handling your cat as much as possible. The same fungus that causes feline ringworm can infect humans. Note that people with compromised immune systems are particularly vulnerable.
Your next priority should be to take your cat to an experienced veterinarian as soon as possible. Vets can use a variety of non-invasive, painless tests to diagnose your cat. Some species of ringworm become fluorescent under ultraviolet light, so your vet may also need to take samples of your cat's remaining fur to check for spores.
How Is Feline Ringworm Treated?
Fortunately, ringworm in cats is relatively easy to treat, and should not cause any significant health issues if you seek treatment as soon as you spot signs of trouble. Your vet may provide you with topical lotions or shampoos containing anti-fungal compounds, which should clear up the infection within a few weeks.
If your cat's infection is more advanced or your cat has a compromised immune system, your vet may also provide oral medications to kill the invading fungus more quickly. Some of these medications will need to be administered alongside a high-fat meal to increase effectiveness, so make sure to follow your vet's instructions closely.