Cat conquers ringworm, finds confidence in foster home

The torbi cat looking at the camera
Savannah was shy and had a bad skin condition — two issues that only strengthened a couple’s resolve to help her.
By Nicole Hamilton

Kayley Watson and Doug Paolillo have fostered about a dozen cats (and counting) with Best Friends in New York City, including solo adult cats and litters of kittens. Over the years, they’ve come to expect the unexpected every time they welcome a new feline houseguest into their apartment. In fact, that’s one of the things they love most about fostering.

So when they learned that the team at Best Friends was looking for a foster home for a cat named Savannah who was extremely timid around people, they stepped up to help. Fear wasn’t Savannah's only challenge; she also had ringworm. And while the word alone is enough to give some pause, it’s nothing to be afraid of at all.

Foster homes help cats with ringworm

Emily DeFelice, Best Friends supervisor of lifesaving outcomes in New York, likens ringworm to athlete’s foot. Icky? Sure. Highly contagious? You bet. But it’s also curable, although cats who are diagnosed with the fungal infection while they are in a shelter (or any other place where they’re in close quarters with other cats) need to be quarantined until their infection clears up.

“This makes it very difficult, or even impossible, for these cats to be seen by people who are looking for a cat to adopt,” says Emily. In a quieter setting of a foster home, however, cats have a better chance at quickly putting ringworm in the rear view.

Also, shelters can be stressful places for cats, and that can cause them to have weaker immune systems at a time when they need their immune system the most. “That’s why it’s so important for cats to be in a foster home while they are undergoing treatment,” says Emily. “It can speed up the cat’s recovery time immensely.”

A 5-minute routine

Kayley and Doug offered to foster Savannah as soon as they learned about her. They’d need to give her oral medication every day, as well as apply a topical antifungal medication to areas of her skin (in place of lime sulfur dips that are often part of ringworm treatment protocol). The regimen seemed simple enough, says Doug, especially considering that they had the support of the Best Friends staff, who could offer any additional guidance they might need.

It didn’t take long for Kayley, Doug, and Savannah to settle into a routine. After a little trial and error, Kayley and Doug learned that it was easier to mix her oral medication in the wet food, rather than using a dropper. As for applying the topical medication, that was a two-person job. As Kayley notes, “Most cats don't really like being sprayed with stuff.”

[There’s a fungus among us and it’s OK]

Kayley and Doug don’t have pets of their own, so they didn’t have to worry about keeping Savannah away from other animals. And to make sure they stayed ringworm-free, they kept their home extra clean by regularly sanitizing areas that Savannah came in contact with.

Overall, Kayley and Doug say that Savannah’s ringworm treatment was neither difficult nor time consuming. In fact, it took just about five minutes a day. As for helping her overcome her serious shyness, Kayley and Doug knew you can’t rush a cat when it comes to developing confidence. However long it took Savannah to come out of her shell was up to her.

From shy cat to wanting to be petted on demand

Kayley and Doug learned from fostering other timid cats that they’d have to take things slowly and be patient. “Most, if not all, cats will be shy and cautious on day one in a new environment,” says Kayley. “Where you see the difference is across the rest of that first week.”

At first, they went about their daily business and didn’t focus too much on Savannah. Instead, they let her do what made her feel safest, which usually meant hiding under furniture. In fact, the only time they approached her in the first week was to give her the medicine she needed to treat her ringworm.

Slowly, Savannah started to trust them. “Over time, she realized that we were not a threat and would come to us and request pets on demand, and later she’d just get cozy wherever she wanted, whether we were around or not,” says Doug.

[Patience, love and sulfur baths help kitten with ringworm]

After about a month in her foster home, Savannah had overcome her two biggest challenges: She was no longer as shy and fearful of people as she was when she came to Best Friends, and her case of ringworm had completely cleared up.

When it was time for Kayley and Doug to bring Savannah back to the lifesaving center, they knew they were going to miss her. But they loved being a part of her life during such a critical time.

In their home, Savannah went from being uncomfortable in her own skin (literally) and afraid of people to a cat with a beautiful coat of shiny fur, who readily doled out purrs and loved basking in the sun while watching birds beyond the window.

Kayley and Doug say they’ll be ready for their next foster adventure soon. As for Savannah, she’s at the lifesaving center, where you’re apt to find her carrying her toy mouse around or lying in a sunbeam, taking in the sights of SoHo from the window. She’s ready for her next adventure, too.

Open your home to a pet in need

Shelters everywhere need help fostering all kinds of cats and dogs — both challenging and not-so-challenging. You can help.

Find foster opportunities near you

Read more

Momma cat and kittens go from cardboard box to homes

Rock star volunteer helps hundreds of cats

Unicorns wanted: Foster families change lives of dogs with challenges