Can You Use Athlete’s Foot Cream on Your Cat’s Ringworm?


Skin conditions are common in cats, with fungal infections being one of the most prevalent. Like humans, cats can suffer from fungal infections on their skin, ears, and paws. The warm, moist areas of a cat’s body provide an ideal environment for fungi like ringworm to thrive.

When cats develop fungal skin infections, many owners naturally want to treat the problem as quickly and effectively as possible. This often leads them to consider using over-the-counter human antifungal creams on their feline companions.

However, what is safe for human skin may not always be safe for a cat’s sensitive skin. Using the wrong antifungal treatment can lead to further irritation, damage, and even toxicity in cats. That’s why it’s important to understand both the risks and safer alternatives before using a human antifungal cream on cats.

What is Antifungal Cream?

Antifungal cream is a topical medication used to treat fungal skin infections like ringworm, athlete’s foot, and jock itch. It contains one or more antifungal ingredients that fight fungal overgrowth on the skin.

Some common antifungal ingredients found in these creams include miconazole, clotrimazole, terbinafine, tolnaftate, and undecylenic acid. These work by disrupting the cell membranes of fungal cells, preventing them from growing and spreading.

According to Strut Health (, antifungal creams block integral parts of fungal cell growth by binding to sterols in the fungal cell membrane. This destabilizes the membrane and inhibits the fungus from growing and reproducing.

By applying the antifungal cream directly to infected skin, the active ingredients can start combatting the fungal infection at the source. Regular application is key to fully clearing fungal overgrowth on the skin.

Common Fungal Infections in Cats

Some of the most common fungal infections seen in cats include:


Ringworm is one of the most common fungal skin infections in cats. It’s caused by multiple species of fungi in the genus Trichophyton or Microsporum. Ringworm presents as circular patches of hair loss and scaly skin, often with reddened margins. It’s highly contagious and can spread rapidly between cats in multi-cat households. Ringworm can also spread from cats to people. Treatment involves topical antifungal medications and lime sulfur dips. The environment should also be thoroughly cleaned to eliminate fungal spores [1].

Yeast Infections

Yeast infections in cats are caused by overgrowth of yeast organisms like Candida albicans on the skin and ears. Cats with allergies, endocrine disorders, or damp folded skin are prone to developing yeast overgrowth. Symptoms include greasy seborrhea, hair loss, itching, and skin thickening. Topical antifungal medications like miconazole and ketoconazole creams can treat localized yeast infections. Correcting any underlying conditions is also important [2].

Fungal Folliculitis

Fungal folliculitis is an infection of the hair follicles, usually caused by dermatophyte fungi like Microsporum canis. It appears as patches of crusty, scaly skin with hair loss and is often very itchy. It may occur alone or along with ringworm. Treatment involves antifungal shampoos, topical antifungal creams, and oral antifungal medication. The cat’s environment should be thoroughly disinfected as well [3].

Dangers of Using Human Antifungal Cream on Cats

Using human antifungal creams on cats can be dangerous for several reasons. The active ingredients in these creams, such as terbinafine, can be toxic to cats if ingested or absorbed through the skin in large amounts (Cat Bandit). Cats are sensitive to medications and improper dosing can lead to adverse reactions.

Some of the potential dangers include:

  • Toxicity – Ingredients like terbinafine can damage a cat’s liver and kidneys if too much is absorbed (JustAnswer).
  • Incorrect dosage – It’s difficult to properly dose creams for a cat’s size. Too much can cause toxicity.
  • Adverse reactions – Diarrhea, drooling, vomiting, lethargy, and loss of appetite are possible.
  • Ingestion – Cats grooming themselves may ingest the cream leading to toxicity.
  • Skin irritation – The ingredients may irritate a cat’s skin.

It’s safest to avoid using human antifungal creams on cats unless directly prescribed by a veterinarian. They can calculate the proper dosage for the cat. Otherwise, the risks likely outweigh any potential benefits.

Safer Alternatives for Cats

It’s best to avoid using human antifungal creams on cats. Instead, there are safer alternatives recommended by vets.

Prescription Antifungal Creams

Veterinarians may prescribe antifungal creams formulated specifically for cats, such as miconazole and clotrimazole. These are proven safe and effective in treating fungal infections in cats when used as directed, such as antifungal creams for yeast infections or ringworm treatment. Speak to your vet to get a prescription for an antifungal cream designed for cats if an over-the-counter remedy does not resolve the infection.

Natural Remedies

Some natural antifungal remedies may help treat mild fungal infections in cats without the risks of human creams. These include apple cider vinegar, coconut oil, colloidal silver gel, and tea tree oil. Always dilute essential oils like tea tree oil and test on a small area first to ensure they don’t irritate your cat’s skin. It’s best to consult your vet before using natural antifungals on cats.

According to this source, essential oil blends formulated for pets may also help fight fungal and yeast infections. Introduce natural remedies gradually and stop use if any irritation occurs.

When to See a Vet

In most cases, mild fungal infections in cats can be treated at home with over-the-counter antifungal creams and medicated shampoos. However, there are certain situations when you should take your cat to see a veterinarian:

Severe infections: If the fungal infection has spread over a large area of your cat’s body, or is causing obvious discomfort, take your cat to the vet right away. Severe infections need prescription strength medication to clear them up.

No improvement with OTC treatment: If you have been treating your cat’s fungal infection with OTC antifungal products for 1-2 weeks and see no improvement, it’s time to seek veterinary care. The vet can prescribe oral antifungal medication or antibiotic ointment which may be more effective.

Seeing your vet promptly can help prevent the infection from worsening and reduce your cat’s discomfort. Don’t delay in seeking professional veterinary care if OTC treatments are not working for your cat’s fungal infection.

How to Apply Antifungal Cream to a Cat

Applying antifungal cream to a cat can be challenging, especially if the cat is uncooperative. Here are some tips for successful application:

Choose a quiet area without distractions to apply the medication. Having an extra person to help restrain the cat can make application easier.

Gently wrap the cat in a towel, leaving the area needing medication accessible. This helps keep the cat still and calm (VCAA).

Apply a small amount of medication to your finger. Gently rub the cream into the affected area, being careful not to get it in the cat’s eyes or mouth.

Give the cat treats and praise throughout to make it a more positive experience. Over time, the cat may become more tolerant of the process.

Never punish or scold the cat, as this will only make application more difficult in the future. Patience and positive reinforcement are key.

Contact your veterinarian if the cat continues to resist medication after trying these techniques. They may recommend alternative delivery methods or medications to make treatment easier on both you and your cat.

Preventing Fungal Infections

There are several steps cat owners can take to help prevent fungal infections in their feline companions:

Practicing good hygiene and grooming is important. Regularly washing your cat’s bedding and keeping the litter box clean can help minimize exposure to fungus. It’s also a good idea to routinely check your cat for any signs of skin irritation or hair loss, which could indicate a fungal infection is developing. Being diligent about grooming can catch issues early.

Reducing exposure to other potentially infected animals can also lower risk. Stray cats, infected pets at the groomer’s or boarding facility, and other cats encountered on walks can pass fungi on to your cat. Avoiding contact with strays and selecting clean, reputable pet care businesses can help.

Boosting your cat’s immune system is another preventive step. A diet rich in antioxidants and probiotics supports immune function. Supplements like lactoferrin and beta glucans may also be beneficial. A healthy, well-nourished cat is less susceptible to fungal infections.

Regular vet checkups allow early detection and treatment if an infection does occur. Alert your vet to any potential fungal exposure or skin irritation so they can monitor it. Prompt treatment improves outcomes.

While not always possible to prevent fungal infections entirely, focusing on hygiene, nutrition, and limiting exposure can significantly reduce the risks.

Signs of Adverse Reaction

Although antifungal medications are generally safe for cats when used as directed, some cats may experience adverse reactions. Some signs to watch out for include:

Lethargy: Antifungal medications can cause fatigue and low energy. If your cat seems more tired and lethargic than usual, contact your vet.

Vomiting: Nausea and vomiting are potential side effects of antifungal meds. If vomiting persists more than 24 hours after starting medication, your cat likely needs a medication change.

Diarrhea: Digestive upset, including loose stools or diarrhea, may occur. Make sure your cat has access to fresh water to avoid dehydration.

Skin irritation: Topical antifungal creams could lead to itchiness, redness or irritation at the application site. Discontinue use if irritation develops.

If your cat experiences any concerning signs after starting an antifungal medication, stop administering it and contact your veterinarian right away. With prompt vet care, adverse reactions can often be managed.


While human antifungal creams may seem like an easy solution for fungal infections in cats, they can actually be quite dangerous if used incorrectly. Human medications are formulated differently and can contain ingredients that are toxic to cats at certain doses. For this reason, it is best not to use any human antifungal cream on cats without first consulting your veterinarian.

The takeaway is that if you suspect your cat has a fungal infection, the safest course is to have your vet examine them and provide a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. Your vet can prescribe cat-safe antifungal medications if needed. Be vigilant for signs of an adverse reaction and contact your vet immediately if you have applied any human antifungal cream to your cat.

With some care and attention, fungal infections are treatable in cats. Work closely with your vet to ensure your cat recovers smoothly. Avoid human antifungal creams and monitor your cat closely if you must use them. With prompt treatment guided by a vet, your cat can make a full recovery.

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