Dull fur or constant scratching due to itching, hair loss or inflamed, bald spots in the fur of your cat – these can all be symptoms of a skin fungus (medically also dermatophytes). Skin fungi are transmitted by tiny particles invisible to the naked eye, called spores. Infectious material consists of small pieces of hair, which are covered with fungal particles. If they trigger a fungal disease, medically called dermatophytosis, this is not only unpleasant for the cat but can also be problematic for the pet owner. Because many fungi can pass from an affected animal to humans – this is called zoonosis.
Dermatophytosis is one of the most common infectious skin diseases in cats. In order to protect your animal and also yourself properly against skin fungi and to be able to treat an affected animal successfully, you will find some important information here.
In principle, all cats can get a skin fungus, but there are some factors with which the risk increases:
- Young animals and those with a weakened immune system have an increased risk.
- Lactating cats can be infected with skin fungus and transmit it to their puppies.
- Persian cats have a higher risk of disease than other breeds.
- There is evidence that the risk of disease in cats is inherited.
- Fungal spores settle more easily in small skin lesions caused by bites or stings from ectoparasites (fleas, ticks, mites) and scratching.
- Any disease that weakens the body can make a cat more susceptible to a skin fungus infection. If a fungal infestation is present, it should be clarified whether the cause is possibly another disease.
- Warm and humid climate favors a skin fungus disease.
- There is a higher risk in stray animals, feral cats, and animals in catteries or shelters where they are kept with other animals.
- There is also an increased risk in animals that participate in exhibitions or competitions.
What are the symptoms of cats with fungal infection?
Skin fungi can basically settle anywhere on the cat, also the symptoms are very different. Especially frequently affected by an infection with dermatophytes are the head, tail, back and legs of the cat. It usually manifests itself as patchy hair loss (alopecia) in the facial area, on the ears or forelimbs. In addition, cats affected by skin fungus may suffer from dry and at the same time greasy skin, claw inflammation and inflammation of the hair follicles and / or subcutaneous fatty tissue.
Figure 1: There are different types of skin fungi in cats. In dermatophytoses, the fungi infect the cat’s coat and claws. Photo: vetproduction
How are skin fungi diagnosed?
Dermatophytosis is often difficult to distinguish from other skin diseases by just looking at it. If owners suspect that their cat has a fungal skin disease, they should present the animal to a veterinarian. This can clarify on the basis of fur and skin samples reliably whether a skin fungus is present. For this purpose, he has several diagnostic methods at his disposal, which he will usually combine:
- Wood’s lamp: Some fungal spores fluoresce under short-wave light, z. B. Black light or UV light. This method is not very reliable, but can be used as a quick test to make a diagnosis. Dermatophytes of the genus Trichophyton about do not produce fluorescence, so a fungal culture should follow.
- Fungal culture/incubation of a culture in the laboratory: A fungal colony is grown in a culture medium. Portions of the colony are placed on a slide and drizzled with a certain liquid. Under the microscope, the expert can identify characteristic features of a fungus and thus the exact species.
- Biopsy: Using a biopsy punch, the veterinarian removes a small, circular piece of tissue from the cat, which reaches into the subcutis. The pathologist cuts the tissue into wafer-thin slices. By special staining of the cells, specific changes caused by fungi can be made visible.
- Trichogram/microscopic examination: The vet examines hair and hair roots under the microscope.
Figure 2: Microsporum Canis, esccap.de
Under certain circumstances, the veterinarian can make a clear diagnosis immediately in his practice and clarify directly whether it is an infestation with skin fungi. Sometimes, however, supplementary examinations of coat and/or skin samples must be performed in a specialized laboratory; for this purpose, the coat and/or skin samples are sent in. It can take several weeks until a final result is available.
How to treat fungus of the skin in the cat?
Treatment against skin fungi is based on three pillars:
1. The animal becomes "systemic" treated, d. h. it receives a syringe and/or medication to be administered via the mouth (so-called antimycotics). The skin fungi are thus fought "from the inside out.
2. At the same time, the skin "Local" treated, d. h. the coat and the skin are washed and/or rubbed externally with medication. However, this external treatment is not limited to the treatment of visibly affected areas, but includes the entire body of the animal. It should be performed at least twice a week throughout the treatment period.
3. The shearing of the coat, especially in heavily infected animals, can support the success of external treatment, as it facilitates the application and penetration of the active ingredients.
The goal of skin fungus treatment is to rid the animal of bothersome symptoms, shorten the duration of the disease, and also prevent further spread in the environment and transmission to other animals and humans. Therefore, cat owners should simultaneously disinfect not only the environment of the animal, but also objects with which the animal has had contact. Here’s how to prevent reinfection. Also, affected and non-affected animals should be kept separately.
Can home remedies help against skin fungi?
When looking for tips to treat fungal diseases, pet owners, especially on the Internet, often come across home remedies – from tea tree oil, coconut oil to yogurt and garlic to vinegar. Fact is: the effect of these "home remedies" is not scientifically proven! On the contrary, much of it is even harmful to cats and can cause allergies or poisoning. Only approved, tested veterinary medicines offer safe protection, so this means that treatment against skin fungi should only be carried out by a veterinarian!
How to prevent a fungal infection in the cat?
puppies, old and weakened animals have the greatest risk of skin fungus infection. Nevertheless, any other animal can also become infected at any time. Therefore, in principle, every cat should be protected from infestation with skin fungi. Precautions include:
- Avoid contact with an affected animal or a contaminated environment
- disinfection of rooms and objects once a week, regardless of obvious skin fungus cases
- If an animal is exposed to possible infection, z. B. in the context of exhibitions, during a stay in a boarding kennel or a shelter, the skin and coat of the animals should be treated externally once afterwards, before the animal comes back into the household/breeding and has contact with humans or other animals
- In parallel, disinfection of transport basket, blankets, collars, etc., with which the animal had contact during this time
- In breedings as well as in animal shelters animals should be examined regularly for a skin fungus. Some animals carry the pathogen without showing symptoms themselves. Nevertheless, they can infect other cats, so regular control of all animals is important.
Can skin fungi be transmitted from cats to humans?
Many pathogens have zoonotic potential, meaning they can affect both animals and humans. This also applies to skin fungi. A cat can therefore infect its owner. To protect themselves and others from this, pet owners should observe the following rules:
- wash hands thoroughly after contact with the animal, do not let the animal sleep on the sofa or in bed
- Treat existing skin fungus infections in the animal and disinfect the environment
- Keep children, pregnant women and immunocompromised persons away from affected animals and objects and rooms possibly contaminated with skin fungus particles
How long is the skin fungus contagious?
spores spread very easily and the fungal particles can remain contagious for years in optimal conditions. In case of an infestation it is even more important to disinfect the environment as well as all objects the cat has been in contact with (basket, toys).
ESCCAP information for pet owners "Recommendation for the control of skin fungi" can also be downloaded here as a PDF.