Fight the Fear, Fight the Fungus! by Rachel Sherinian
“What scaly, patchy fur? He’s my best bud!”
Two of Ranelle’s current foster kittens, Othello and Yoda, chilling on a Friday night.
It’s likely that you’ve heard of ringworm before. You may have even had it yourself! Perhaps as a child, when it was a well-earned souvenir of a beloved summer camp. It was the little itchy spot that looked like a mosquito bite at first, until it turned into the familiar red ring we know so well.
What is ringworm? Well, it isn’t a worm, that’s for sure! It’s a common skin fungus that affects both people and animals. For many cats and kittens all over the country, it’s much more than that: it marks them for euthanasia.
“Killed for a fungus?!” you might be thinking? Well, that may be the norm elsewhere, but not HERE. Not in Austin, and not at APA! We’re able to save these lives thanks to dedicated people who open their hearts and homes to them. Fostering a litter of kittens or a cat with ringworm may sound icky, but it’s not! It’s truly one of the BEST gifts you can give. Don’t believe us? Just ask others who have done the same!
“I took my first ringworm kitten because she was a medical foster, not because she had ringworm. After she got over her kitty cold, I got her a playmate, and then another. Then a litter of three joined them, and so on, and so on. They were adorable! Kittens got adopted out, and another litter came in. At one point I had 9 kittens with varying degrees of ringworm. Those 5 or 6 months were some of the most rewarding I have had fostering kittens, because the transformation is pretty incredible to watch.” Carri Y., foster mom
Poppyseed was one of Carri’s foster kittens. She had an unusually dramatic case of ringworm!
“This is my fifth season with the bottle babies and I’ve been fostering ringworm kittens since the beginning. I have a special place in my heart for the crusty little critters. They have a tough time of it with the bad reputation ringworm has and, frankly, they do look a little iffy when you aren’t used to seeing bald spots on kittens. I have had ringworm several times in the past– BUT NOT ONE SINGLE TIME SINCE I’VE BEEN FOSTERING KITTENS! I keep the “wormies” in a bathroom (bathrooms are easy to clean and sanitize) and I’m careful to follow good hygiene protocols. Ringworm has never been spread from my fosters to my personal pets, to any of my other fosters (and yes, I do take other fosters when I have ringworm kittens), or to any other humans in the house. APA’s Ringworm Ward staff are always helpful when I meet with potential adopters, too. They explain the situation thoroughly, which helps get these babies adopted! We have a saying at APA: “No one ever died from ringworm.” And it’s true– you can google it, I did! While I would never make light of anyone’s genuine concerns about the subject, I have to say it really isn’t a big deal. Remember when you were a little kid and didn’t want to eat your veggies, and your parents said, “…try it, just one bite and then if you don’t like it…?” Well, I say to you, try it, just once, and see what it’s all about.” Beckie S., foster mom and Neonatal Nursery volunteer
“Last summer we had 4 ringworm kitties. At first we were always paranoid and checking ourselves under a blacklight, but that quickly faded. After a week or two we would usually only wash our hands upon exiting the ringworm room. Through the course of 2 months no one in our household got ringworm despite hanging out with the kitties all day. Maybe we were just lucky, but it seems to me that ringworm really isn’t all that easily spread to people as long as the room is cleaned at appropriate frequency and no one is smooshing their faces into the kitties ringworm spots.” Victoria Y., foster mom
“Over my 5 years of fostering for APA! I have had multiple ringworm litters. In all that time I only got ringworm twice, and it was less than a nickel sized spot that went away very quickly. Not a big deal at all! It is also super simple to prevent it from getting in your home or on you. The main thing about fostering ringworm kittens is sanitizing after you’ve been with them. Once you have the sanitizing process down, it’s easy. If you do that, you can play and love on them just like any other foster litter. You also get to see them transform from partly-hairless kitties no one wants, to beautiful, furry, adoptable kittens. My two cats and dog have never had ringworm in all my time fostering. My family has never gotten RW either, and I have two girls that love to love on kittens, ringworm or not. The process can sometimes take longer than normal fosters as you treat the fungus and wait for the hair to grow back, but it is worth it!” Kathy D., foster mom and Neonatal Nursery volunteer
“I fostered a FeLV+ adult with ringworm once. Didn’t spread to me, my girlfriend, or my two other cats with feline leukemia! I followed the regular ringworm protocol: twice a week lym dips (full body) followed by deep cleaning and bleaching of my tiled bathroom, oral meds, and frequent bedding changes. At the beginning I kept a special set of PJs to wear while hanging out with him in the bathroom. It all worked out beautifully!” Laylee S., foster mom and APA Adoption Counselor
“I’ve had, counting my current bunch, 42 ringworm babies. I keep them in a spare room with plastic sheeting from Home Depot over the carpet. The lym dipping is no big deal. I do it myself now. One thing different about ringworm babies is they don’t get the run of the house. So an effort has to be made to spend time with them to socialize them. I’ve gotten it a few times and it’s not that bad and nothing that a kitten should be killed for. My cats have gotten a small spot of it a few times and it goes away in a few weeks. The Internet is scary about ringworm, stirring up hysteria, which has probably cost a lot of lives. These babies need a chance and it’s beyond rewarding when they are cleared and gorgeous.” Ranelle M., foster mom and Neonatal Nursery volunteer
“We have two cats (and two human children) and are now fostering our third ringworm litter. We keep our cats away for a while, but eventually they do have contact. It’s never been an issue. Those ringworm kitties are the sweetest, and you get to see them blossom as their fur fills in!” Stacey B., foster mom
“I have fostered numerous ringworm litters – honestly, the hardest part of the process is having to keeping them separate from others, because you just want to let them run around! I’ve had one or two tiny spots of ringworm myself – very easy to get rid of – but it’s hardly even a nuisance.These kittens are hard to place in foster homes because of the “ickiness” factor some associate with the fungus. Seriously, if that’s what’s holding you back from taking a litter, please take one! These babies are just as fun and loving and deserving of a foster home in preparation for their forever home!” Renee M., foster mom
6 Quick Tips for Fostering Cats and Kittens with Ringworm:
- Keep them in a bathroom, so that it’s easy to clean up! Bleach diluted in 10 parts water kills the fungus. If you don’t have a spare bathroom, any area that’s easy to clean with bleach would be ideal!
- Come to the Ringworm Ward at APA for lym dips! This is a very effective topical treatment that you can do for your kittens up to twice per week. Since it’s a sulfur solution, it’s a little stinky. That’s why we’re happy to do it at our facility on Tuesdays and Fridays!
- If you choose to lym dip at home instead, Odoban is great for getting any lingering sulfur smell out of the towels you used. It helps disinfect, too!
- Keep an old shirt, pajama pants, and some cozy socks hanging on the door to your kittens’ ringworm area! Slip these on over your clothes when you go into the room.
- Tea tree oil has natural antifungal properties. It’s safe for humans, but not for cats. Using a soap or bodywash that contains tea tree oil can help keep you fungus-free!
- Pets with ringworm are available for adoption just like any other! If someone falls in love with your kittens, they can come to APA’s Ringworm Ward to get all their questions answered.
We hope this encourages you to overcome your fear of that pesky little fungus, and give fostering ringworm kitties a try! The only way we can stay a No Kill city is if everyone works together to save them all. Yes, even the bald and crusty ones.
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Author: Rachel Sherinian