Fungal infections in cats are more common than you think.
Fungi are actually parasites, feeding off the host on which they grow. Cats, particularly those who spend time outdoors, are susceptible to contracting fungal infections in several ways: by inhaling fungal spores, by ingesting them, or by absorbing them through an opening in the skin like a cut.
Most fungal infections in cats are localized, meaning they’re concentrated on one specific part of the cat’s body. Fungi tend to thrive in conditions that are moist and warm, making them particularly prevalent during summertime, although certain species of fungi prefer hot, dry weather.
Let’s talk about a few of the most common fungal conditions our veterinarians see in cats.
Crypto is a serious fungal infection caused by Cryptococcus neoformans. It’s one of the few causes of systemic fungal infections in cats, meaning the fungus affects the entire body rather than a localized part of the skin. Systemic infections like Crypto can harm the brain, spinal cord, respiratory system, eyes, and even bone marrow and can be fatal.
Most cats have a natural immunity to Crypto which means those affected may have already been adversely affected by a compromised immune system. Although Cryptococcus spores can be found in the mouths and nasal passages of healthy cats, the biggest risk to immuno-compromised cats comes through interaction with decaying animal matter such as pigeon poop where the fungus thrives.
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Malassezia (Yeast Infection)
A majority of all cats have Malassezia in at least small quantities on their skin. For some cats though, particularly those with allergies, skin diseases, or ongoing infections, the Malassezia can eventually cause a localized infection.
Yeast infections in cats are usually identified by hair loss, skin redness, skin that is crusted or scaly, and/or the presence of a foul-smelling discharge. The good news is, most yeast infections are highly treatable through a combination of topical creams and anti-fungal shampoos.
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Ringworm is a fungus?! Yes! Long-haired cats and cats under a year old are predisposed to contracting ringworm, which is usually transmitted through infected grooming tools or contaminated bedding. Ringworm spores can actually remain infectious in an environment for up to two years.
A ringworm infection often results in circular-shaped spots of hair loss, especially on the head or extremities. The skin around the infection may become red, scaly, or itchy, or it might not. Your vet can check for ringworm spores using a microscope. Treatment usually involves antifungal liquid as well as decontamination of the entire environment, as well as treatment of any underlying skin issues.
Aspergillosis is a fungal infection that primarily affects the respiratory system. It usually begins in the sinuses or nasal passages of cats but can eventually reach the rest of the body, wreaking particular havoc on the lungs and central nervous system.
The sytmptoms of Aspergillosis aren’t specific, meaning every case presents slightly differently. Some cats may experience inflamed sinuses or facial swelling while others may develop pneumonia or even seizures. Aspergillosis is relatively difficult to diagnose and may involve lab testing and x-rays.