We picked up a new batch of foster kittens and mama cat back at the end of April. When we took them in two weeks later for vaccinations, they were showing signs of ringworm. Ringworm in humans is annoying, but easily treated--but in a shelter atmosphere, it can be a huge problem because it's so contagious. Ringworm is caused by airborne spores and can spread through a shelter very quickly. The shelter where I volunteer does not have the facilities to treat ringworm, so I agreed to treat them at home.
I was slightly panicky, we'd had a meeting back in January where they stressed how dangerous ringworm could be in a shelter, and I was just imagining clouds of spores drifting around the house. Fortunately, since they were so young we'd get them confined in my sewing room, but just walking in and out of the room we were carrying spores on our clothing. I needed to treat the cats with oral medication for a month, treat them weekly with lime sulfur and give them weekly cultures--they needed three negative cultures in a row before they could return.
They've been here a little over a 2 months, they have one more week to go and if they don't develop any new spots they can return. I'm almost hesitant to write up this post, in case I jinx it!
It was overwhelming at times, but I must stress not panicking. It can seem at times as though it's this invisible force you're battling--for instance, the cultures were done by rubbing their fur with a sterile toothbrush, and then pressing it into a culture plate. They could actually be ringworm free, but if they picked up the spores from somewhere, the culture could show a positive. I looked for advice online, and some things seemed extreme wiping down the walls of the room with bleach water daily, vacuuming daily, wearing shoe and hair covers when you entered the room, changing your clothes every time you left the room.
This is what I did: I cleared almost all the shelves in the room--it's my sewing room so there was a lot of fabric and clutter. This made it much easier to wipe down shelves and lessened the chance of contamination. I did leave the books, but wiped those down every few days as well. All surfaces got wiped down with bleach water every few days, especially right before they would get dipped. The kittens got dipped in a lime sulfur solution twice a week. I used an empty bucket from cat litter, it confined them somewhat so they couldn't really struggle. The room has wooden floors that aren't in very good condition, so I just dipped them in the room. For the mama cat, I just put a towel on the floor and poured the dip over her. Then I'd wipe down the floor with the sulfur-y towel. It does smell bad, but by that time the whole room smelled of dip anyway from the kittens so if it was going to kill more spores, I didn't mind doing it that way. I'd change their bedding on dipping day, and clean all their toys, litter boxes, and other equipment by dipping them in lime sulfur as well. I changed the litter boxes daily.
I found that using a sponge to really squeeze it into their fur helped. Kitten fur is amazingly resistant to water. The first time I dipped them I thought I had them drenched and then I could see I'd just got the surface hair. I tried wearing gloves and the first kitten I dipped clawed a hole in them so I'd just do it with bare hands and wash them really well afterwards or I could smell the sulfur the rest of the day.
You can see how delighted they are with the whole dipping process.
What would drive me crazy was trying to make sure I'd do things in the right order so I wouldn't recontaminate anything, and then I'd start to get obsessive. So I'd dip them and then leave the room, go right into the bathroom to shower. But wasn't I getting spores in the towels and rug when I undressed? I didn't want to take the laundry downstairs until after I showered and changed so I didn't tramp spores through the house, but then when I dumped it into the washing machine, wasn't I getting more spores on myself? After a while you realize there just is a certain amount of ringworm spores that are going to be in the house and you just can't do anything about it so be careful but don't make yourself crazy. I did end up with one small spot on my ankle, but none the other animals in the house, both pet and human, showed any signs.
Also, once the kittens return, no one is allowed to say spore in this household.
I think one of the hardest things about all this is that we are unable to volunteer as dog walkers at the shelter for another three months, just to be absolutely certain we don't bring ringworm into the building. I'm really missing being around the dogs, but I'm glad we were able to help these little guys.
Mama Junebug Jones