Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Revisiting that Nasty Little Fungus

I just received a comment on that most unhappy subject — ringworm — from a reader:
My cat was diagnosed with ring worm. Booooo :( He's been on Fluconazole for a month, but still itching, and I just found a raw, hairless area tonight! Did your cats have these spots? Did the lime sulfur dips finally end up working for you? So curious for your imput on how to save my kitty from misery~
The poor little guy, and his poor human, too! Yes, our cats had various crusty and colorful spots, but they didn't itch. They were on ears and noses and looked awful, ruining many of Possum's baby pictures.


Here's a photo from last November, when we were in the thick of our ringworm plague. He's napping on one of the Indian bedspreads I bought to protect our bed and furniture from the fungus. That spot on his nose was initially black, then it turned reddish. Broke my heart to see it on his adorable face.

I found a lot of emotional support and tips when I joined the forums on TheCatSite.com during our "plague." I also found a lot of misinformation and quack treatments online, along with scary "expert" recommendations that were impossible to follow. Our vet's office gave me a fact sheet that told me to use a powerful 10% bleach solution on every surface in my house.

Bleach oriental rugs, walls, old wood floors, upholstery, books? I don't think so. That's sensible advice for a kennel; most of us don't live in kennels. And exposure to widespread bleach fumes at that strength is unhealthy for cats and humans. I only bleached our cats' carriers, and rinsed like crazy.

Ultimately, I figured out what to do by finding the best vet-researched info on the Internet and using common sense. When we were successfully "cured" after two months of treatment and a lot of negative cultures, I wrote up a long summary of everything I'd done and learned, to help my fellow cat lovers, on TheCatSite.com, which you can find by clicking here. People tell me they've found it useful; I hope it's helpful to you!

My major discovery was to treat the fungus as if it were dust mites. You can't kill them, but you CAN vacuum them up from almost any surface. A good vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter and high-quality, self-sealing bag is your best ally.

Those (rotten-egg-scented) lime-sulfur dips are also really important. If you live in the Boston area, let me know, and I can tell you where to find the ONE fearless groomer around here willing to do the dips. While some people say lime sulfur is caustic, others say it's actually very soothing to the cat's skin. (It's hard for humans to inhale the stuff, and it may irritate our skin, so wear really long gloves and probably a mask and goggles.) While my cats hated the procedure, we didn't find that the solution itself bothered them at all. I think they just wondered why they reeked of sulfur, which dries to smell like fireworks. The dip kills the fungus deep in the fur and makes the cat much less contagious to you and other animals. It also stops spores from being released into the air, which is essential, so it doesn't spread to humans and other animals. Dipping is stinky and messy — but necessary. We had all four cats dipped once a week for a couple of months. You can spot-treat the lesions more often.

I got some advice on dipping from the manager at the Animal Rescue League, who had dealt with ringworm epidemics in shelters. These epidemics seem to be increasingly common around New England and are a nightmare — some shelters just euthanize all the animals because ringworm is so hard and expensive to treat in a large population. So tragic. The shelter manager said that the easiest way to soak the cat is with a spray bottle, ideally a rose sprayer, rather than immersing the cat in a tub. You wouldn't need to mix a whole gallon that way, either. This seemed very sensible to me. Ideally you'd have someone restrain the cat while you soak it with the spray and dab its little head with a soaked sponge. Then you put the cat into a cage or plastic kennel cab to dry. No toweling or rinsing: the cat needs to drip dry in a warm, undrafty spot.

If you live in a tiny apartment, as we do, and you just can't handle the dip, your next option is fungicidal pet shampoos that might possibly do something until the oral meds do their work.

It helps to remember that there are many contagious diseases with far worse consequences. Ringworm is icky, persistent, infuriating — but not deadly. You CAN get it under control. It, too, shall pass.

To read my "Journal of the Plague Year" posts from when we dealt with ringworm after adopting two feral kittens last year, please search this blog for "plague year," and you'll find about nine  posts.

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