QOur cat, Smokey, who we recently rescued from a shelter, has ringworm. Can you recommend any natural options to get her better?
C.P., via email
A Dermatophytosis, commonly known as ringworm, is an infection of the skin, hair or nails caused by fungi such as Microsporum, Trichophyton or Epidermophyton. A highly contagious condition, ringworm can easily spread from pet to pet and from pet to humans, especially to children who tend to be in close contact with the infected pets. (However, most cases of ringworm seen in people are actually not from pets.)
Around half the time, the fungus Microsporum canis is responsible for ringworm in cats and dogs. Animals under a year old tend to be more susceptible (likely because their immune system is not fully developed), as are older cats, those with a compromised immune system and Persian cats. Cats in rescue and boarding facilities like Smokey are also at high risk, as the fungal spores are shed in the environment and can stay alive for 18 months.
Symptoms and diagnosis
Ringworm may show up as circular, rather damp, areas of skin as the hair becomes damaged and falls out. These focal areas are primarily seen on the face, head and feet and are often strikingly symmetrical and not itchy. Sometimes just a dull hair coat and some patchy hair loss are the only symptoms.
To diagnose ringworm, your vet will need to rule out other skin diseases that cause similar symptoms, such as other types of infection, flea allergy dermatitis and eczema. A wood's lamp, a handheld device that uses a blacklight to illuminate the skin, is used for diagnosis, as ringworm lesions fluoresce under UV light. However, this test is not definitive, as only Microsporum infections tend to show up.
Testing hair from the affected area is a more conclusive way to determine if the infection is ringworm. Your vet will need to have a definitive diagnosis before they can prescribe any treatment.
All long-haired cats with ringworm lesions need to be clipped, and the clippings incinerated, so as to reduce environmental contamination. Systemic treatment with antifungal drugs like griseofulvin or ketoconazole may be needed, but these can be expensive and have several side-effects. Griseofulvin should never be given to pregnant cats as it causes severe birth defects.
Topical antifungals are also available in the form of shampoos and creams. Vets may also use lime sulfur dips or enilconazole rinses.
A number of topical and internal natural remedies can be helpful for pets with ringworm like Smokey. Here are my top 10.
Calendula officinalis, or marigold, has anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties, making it an excellent remedy for ringworm and other skin problems. It's widely available in ointments and creams, or you can make your own topical calendula remedy by following the instructions on page 55. Apply daily to the affected areas using a cotton swab or a gloved finger until the lesions heal.
Cold-pressed neem oil is another natural antifungal that can be used topically to help with a variety of skin conditions, including ringworm, eczema, fleas, ticks, mange and mites. Various neem-based shampoos, creams, ointments and sprays are available for cats and dogs. Lines like TheraNeem Organix (organixsouth.com) and the NeemTeam (www.theneemteam.co.uk) have plenty of good options.
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) is an herb often used to combat inflammation and infection. Apply an alcohol-free tincture of the herb to the affected area two to three times daily using cotton swabs.
Apple cider vinegar
This popular home remedy can help relieve itching by clearing away the skin cells on which ringworm thrives. Simply add 2 tablespoons of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar to 1 quart of water and use it to rinse the affected areas.
This natural antifungal is useful for treating ringworm, and various pet-friendly sprays and creams are available, such as those made by Sovereign Silver in the US (www.sovereignsilver.com) and Optimised Energetics in the UK, (available from www.healthfulpets.co.uk). Spray on the affected area as directed or apply with a cotton swab.
Aloe vera and tea tree oil
Tea tree oil shouldn't be used on cats, but for dogs it's a fantastic ringworm remedy when mixed with topical aloe vera gel and applied directly to the lesions.
Glacier Peak Gold
Herbs can also be beneficial for ringworm when used internally. Glacier Peak Gold by Glacier Peak Holistics (glacierpeakholistics.com) is a blend of 100 percent organic herbs including olive leaf, astragalus root, slippery elm bark and mustard seed designed to fight fungal infections and boost the immune system. Follow the dosing instructions on the label.
Raw, virgin coconut oil has antifungal properties and can be added to food (1-2 tsp/day) or applied directly to lesions.
Gently applying pressure with your fingers to the LI 11 (large intestine 11) point, located in the outer aspect of the elbow, for 30 seconds once daily can help your pet fight ringworm naturally. See my book You Can Heal Your Pet for detailed instructions on how to give acupressure to your pet.
The main homeopathic remedy for ringworm is Bacillinum 30C. Give the remedy to your pet three times a day for 10 to 14 days. Repeat after 14 days if there's no improvement, or try Sepia 30C instead at the same dose.
Stop the spread
Ringworm is a very contagious disease, so follow these tips for stopping its spread in your home.
•Treat all pets in the house for ringworm if the affected pet has not been isolated after diagnosis.
• Vacuum any areas used by your pet daily to get rid of contaminated hair and spores.
• Use a 1:10 diluted household bleach solution to clean all surfaces that your pet has come into contact with, including pet carriers and cages.
• See your doctor if you find circular lesions on your own skin.