Diagnosing, Treating & Managing Shelter Cats with Ringworm

Managing Ringworm in Shelter Cats

By Laura Mullen


Ringworm can lead to devastating consequences if found within a shelter. There is a perception that treating ringworm infections in a shelter setting with a limited budget and staff is simply not feasible. The result is that many animals are deemed unadoptable merely because they were exposed to an infected cat.


Take the comprehensive plan for detecting, treating and managing ringworm that I helped craft here at the SF SPCA and expand it to shelters across the country. And in the process, avoid ringworm outbreaks and stop this fungal invader in its tracks.


Shelters Preventing Outbreaks of Ringworm through Education (SPORE) is the effective and scalable approach we use at SF SPCA to help teach shelter staff and volunteers how to better detect, treat and manage ringworm. To build SPORE from the ground up, we focused on four key pillars to help make this program a success:

Step 1 ScienceSCIENCE:

Science works. And application of methods will work if there is a full understanding as to why and how to do the required steps. I find proven research-based methods that can be dissected and applied to a variety of different shelters and rescues. I like science to back me up and provide the roadmap for why we do all of the things we do. I like to reference brilliant researchers who have lots of letters after their name, taking their wonderful work and explaining it to the people who need the information. It is a lot of hard work, but with the right science-backed plan these animals can be treated and off to their forever homes within 2 months.

Step 2 MoneyMONEY:

Animals with ringworm can be expensive to house and treat, so by highlighting our program to the board and donors, we have been able to help support our growth through grants and donations. In the beginning I received a small grant from my board of directors to teach shelters in our immediate community. Understanding there was a bigger need, Maddie’s Fund has been very generous and has helped grow the SPORE program with individual grants. The last three years, I have been awarded grants from Maddie’s Fund to host Ringworm Apprenticeships at the San Francisco SPCA.

Step 3 VolunteersVOLUNTEERS:

Volunteer manpower is essential for this type of program to flourish. Inspiring volunteers to work with animals that have ringworm can be easier than one might think. Many supplies can be outsourced to supporters using Amazon wish lists or by listing items of need on their website. The community will support a shelter wanting to change policies and save lives; you just have to let them know. Here at the SF SPCA, our ringworm program is about 80% volunteer based. Our volunteers do all of the oral treatments, topical dips and obtaining of samples for cultures from our animals in treatment. It took us a few years to get to this point, but it is possible with constant training and recruiting.

Step 4 LeadersLEADERS:

There is too much work for one person, so we must “teach the teachers” so they can bring back the knowledge learned to spread in their communities. At least one trained staff member needs to be the point person for training and program oversight. I have found that after people have heard a lecture by me, they are more confident with treatment and more comfortable inspiring others to join them in the fight against ringworm. I also offer students workshops and apprenticeships with animals at all stages of treatment. Hands-on application of materials learned during lectures puts the training to work and promotes great discussion as to how this is applied to each type of shelter/rescue that comes to the program.


If you teach them, they will treat. After reviewing the practical tools and researched-based methods utilized for ringworm treatment, shelters develop plans that now include the treatment of patients with this curable disease. It is a lot of work, but when you understand what needs to be done and how to train people/volunteers to do it, the overwhelming task becomes doable and more and more adoptions become possible. With the generous support from Maddie’s Fund I have been able to train over 80 shelter workers from 25 different states across the country. These shelters and rescues are now better prepared when ringworm enters their shelter and know how to avoid an outbreak once discovered. The knowledge is out there, but it needs to be disseminated and brought to the shelter workers on the front lines in the battle against this fungal disease.


Tip number 1

Anyone can be trained to successfully treat cats with ringworm as long as they have the plan and a few extra sets of hands. Treating ringworm consists of three concurrent therapies that must be done together. You must treat the animal both topically (with shampoo/dip), systemically (with oral anti-fungal medication) and environmentally (you can’t forget about the area where the animal is living). With diligent management techniques, most animals will be successfully treated over 4-6 weeks.

Tip number 2

Every Friday we have “Graduation Day” where we release our animals from our program to move on in their next stage towards adoption. My volunteers found a stuffed bear with a graduation cap and gown, so now every week the graduate kittens have a photo shoot “attacking” graduation bear. We then print out the pictures and put them up for the volunteers and staff to see and remember their favorites that have graduated the program. It is a sense of pride for them and they know that if they were not a part of our team, many of those cats would never have made it to our shelter and gotten a chance to be treated.

Tip number 3

As a member of a larger sheltering community, we need to learn how to work together. Ask for help and get some training. Reach out to me, or another SPORE trained shelter, and we will help you get started. Gather volunteers. It’s amazing what volunteers can do if you just ask them and share your passion with them. We all have our roles to play in this program and we all need to work together in order to save these adoptable animals. It really does take a village…actually quite a few of them.


Laura Mullen | Shelter Medicine Outreach Programs Manager, SF SPCA
Laura has worked in shelter medicine for 19 years. She started working at the San Francisco SPCA in 2001, enjoyed a variety of roles within the Shelter Medicine Department, ranging from Veterinary Assistant to Foster Coordinator, and has now settled in the position of Shelter Medicine Outreach Programs Manager.

She is passionate about education and finding workable solutions within the shelter community. In 2012, Laura received a small grant from the SF SPCA board to start the SPORE Program that now saves over 350 animals with ringworm yearly.

Laura Mullen’s email:

Maddie’s Fund Ringworm Apprenticeship at SF SPCA:

SF SPCA’s SPORE program

ASPCApro Webinar series on treating ringworm in shelters