Taking care of foster kittens with ringworm
My first foray into fostering kittens in August 2016 was through Save a Kitten (SAK), a campaign by San Jose Animal Advocates in partnership with the City of San Jose Animal Care and Services (SJACS). During kitten season (approximately April to October), kittens that need around-the-clock care are often at high risk of euthanasia. Kittens at risk that need to be fostered usually have medical or behavior issues such as antisocial behavior, fur loss, eating disorders, eye discharge, upper respiratory infections, and bottle-feeding.
To join the program, I filled out a foster application form and messaged the SAK Facebook page to let them know that I was interested. The volunteer that mans the Facebook chat is super responsive and often responds within minutes. She quickly let me of a few kittens that fit within my criteria of no bottle-feeding and eating well. The same day, I ended up picking up two black kittens from the shelter in San Jose with some fur loss.
After taking them to a vet appointment the next day, they were diagnosed with ringworm, and I was given instructions to keep them carefully quarantined, since ringworm is very contagious and zoonotic, and to give them weekly lime sulfur dip baths.
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After reading many articles about ringworm, since I was paranoid about transferring it to my other household bunnies and cat, my boyfriend and I ended up with a good routine that has proven to have kept the fungus out of the rest of my zoo a month later. We placed the kittens in a bathroom that was segregated from the rest of the house by another room that we closed access to. Every five days, we gave the kittens a lime sulfur dip and thoroughly bleached the bathroom. Before putting the kittens in the bathroom, I removed all towels, toothbrushes, and any other materials that were fabric and porous. We used disposable bowls and plates for their wet and dry food, and used a small plastic litterbox and ceramic water dish that we thoroughly cleaned when we gave the kittens their bath. Every time we handled or interacted with the kittens, we wore nitrile gloves and bleached any skin surfaces that may have come in contact with the kittens upon leaving.
The following are a few tips that have proven useful during our care of the kittens with ringworm.
- Giving lime sulfur dips. Because the kittens were only about 7 weeks old and the ringworm symptoms were very mild, the kittens were only prescribed the lime sulfur dip and no oral medications were needed. The veterinary office gave us a 4 oz bottle of Vet Basics Lime Sulfur dip, a product available on Amazon in a 16 oz bottle. To give the bath/dips, a useful tip I found on the web was to buy a small rose garden sprayer from Home Depot to apply the solution. The half-gallon sprayer was perfect for storing enough dip solution for two to three baths per kitten. I poured in about 2 oz of the concentrated lime dip and mixed in warm water for the rest of the container.
The lime sulfur dip can smell very strong, and the dip is a deep yellow that can stain your skin, so my boyfriend and I did the procedure outside in the backyard and wore nitrile gloves and minimal clothing that could be thrown immediately in the wash. We also bought a gallon of chlorine bleach to dilute and bleach our feet before walking in the house to the shower. Diluted bleach in the form of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water has shown to be effective at killing ringworm spores.
I had a few extra plastic lids from storage containers that we used as bunny litter boxes, so we used one of those as the bathing surface. We used a plastic 5 gallon bucket as the holding area until their dip and another bucket as the “clean” holding area to allow them to air dry from the dip. We placed a few clean cotton hand towels on the bottom of the buckets to prevent the kittens from getting too cold and give them a bit of grip. The reason for using buckets was because they were easily bleachable, which would rid the objects of ringworm. Lastly, we used cotton balls to apply the dip in the facial area, as the solution tastes very bitter and burns the eyes if we accidentally got it in their face. In order to be effective, the dip solution needs to soak through the fur to the skin to kill all the ringworm spores.
Altogether, the dips took about 30 minutes total and we let them air dry in the garage for about 3 hours while we cleaned their bathroom. To keep the kittens in the bucket, I had a few wire panels laying around from DIY bunny condos, and piling about 3-4 of them on top of the bucket was heavy enough to keep them inside as well as provide ventilation.
- Cleaning the bathroom. Whenever you are fostering kittens, it is a very good idea to keep them quarantined in an easily cleanable area in case they have a contagious disease. Fortunately, the bathroom we kept the kittens with ringworm had no carpet and all the surfaces were easily bleachable.
First, I made a bucket full of diluted bleach solution (1 part bleach to 9 parts water) and soaked 5-6 cotton towels in it to use for wiping down all the surfaces in the bathroom — namely the floor, toilet, walls and cabinets, and doors that the kittens could have rubbed up against and left spores. We bought a cheap broom from Daiso, a Japanese $1.50 dollar store, to sweep up litter and food left on the floor. I did not want to use a vacuum because the spores can survive for years on a surface, and a vacuum is generally not easy to take apart and disinfect.
We wiped down the entire bathroom using the bleached towels and let it sit for a few minutes to kill any ringworm spores before using more damp clean towels to rinse of the bleach solution. All sink and door handles were bleached as well just in case. Then, we allowed the bathroom to dry out with the door open for a few hours to allow the bleach smell to air out.
- Cleaning toys and other supplies. As stated before, we bleached the litter box with the diluted bleach solution. The kittens were giving wood pellets from the shelter as litter, and their litter box was generally completely dumped and refilled daily.
Any toys we gave the kittens were plastic and easily bleachable as well. I rinsed them off and let them air dry after letting them soak in bleach.
The food bowls were all disposable and went straight in the trash every day after feeding to prevent recontamination. The ceramic water dish I washed thoroughly with Dawn dish soap with a hose outdoors and scrubbed and rinsed multiple times to remove as much of the spores mechanically as possible.
All these tips proved effective in curing the kittens of ringworm in about a month as well as keeping the rest of my five bunnies and cat from catching the fungal disease. I picked up this first set of fosters on July 30, 2016, and returned them to the shelter on Aug 28, 2016 — cured and healthy! Hope this post helps other cat owners that have had to deal with ringworm in their house!