After about four months of owning the cats (coming up to Christmas), I was just about getting used to our new lifestyle. Particularly with Charlie, who seemed quite content with the time share agreement with Tabby. I even remember taking a deep sigh and thinking, ‘let the trouble-free cat parenting begin’!
Then one evening I came home from work and noticed that the tip of Sock’s left ear was completely bald. I tried to get a closer look at it but she wouldn’t let me come near. When I woke up the next morning, it had turned a grey colour and looked crusty, like an old scab. I decided to start googling, in search of an online diagnosis.
First I checked for ear mites. The webpage said to check whether the cat was scratching or head shaking and look for black dots in the inner ear. Although Socks was occasionally scratching her ear, I couldn’t see any back dots so I ruled out ear mites.
Next, I wondered whether it was a burn from a car exhaust. When I tried to touch the skin on her ear though, there were no cries of pain. Probably not a burn then, I thought. My googling continued until I was scaring myself that it could be mange. That was when my boyfriend gently suggested that the vet may be better placed to provide a diagnosis.
I rang the vet as soon as they opened and booked an appointment. “Which cat are we seeing today?” the receptionist asked. “The less troublesome one” I replied. I looked at Socks. She had been through so much in her short life so far. The shelter had hinted that she had had kittens at a very young age for a cat but they didn’t know the exact details. I knew she was a brave little soul and I wanted to make her life as easy as possible from now on. I hoped it wasn’t anything serious.
At the vet, I felt an overwhelming sense of protectiveness over Socks. I tried to keep calm and pretend I was a normal cat owner without an excessive attachment to their cat. I explained the problem in as few word as possible and tried to keep my voice even. Unfortunately, Socks blew my cover when she flew out the cage and straight into my arms, cuddling up to my chest as the vet tried to do an examination. I peered over the vets shoulder as she wrote ‘owner concerned’ on her notes. She then took Socks out of the room (probably not to worry me) to take skin and hair samples.
After a few moments, she brought Socks back and told me she had been very well-behaved. Her next words shocked me. “I think there is a strong chance that Socks has ringworm”. She then got out some industrial strength cleaner and started mopping down the worktops as she spoke. “Does your other cat have any similar patches?” I thought about Charlie. His last fight had left him looking like a plucked chicken at the front. “Umm… it’s hard to know” I said. “He’s quite long-haired”.
The vet told me to check him over. The results of the hair sample test would be back in 3 working days. When I asked her what it would mean if it was ringworm, she told me she would rather have the positive result before talking about it any further. Her exact words were “I wouldn’t want to unnecessarily tell you to disinfect your entire house”. I looked at her in shock. I hadn’t even done that since we moved in.
While we were waiting for the results, I decided that doing more googling was definitely the best course of action. If Socks did indeed have ringworm, both cats would need three months’ worth of medication and the house would also need to be regularly disinfected over that time too. I also read that ringworm is highly contagious and that it would be very likely that my boyfriend and I would catch it too. I was supposed to be helping out at a Children’s Christmas party but the organisers were very understanding when I told them it may be best if I didn’t attend, potentially passing on the gift of ringworm to the kids for Christmas. We also decided to hold off from sending the neighbours their Christmas cards.
I kept the two cats housebound while we were waiting for the diagnosis. It felt like the longest wait ever. In the meantime, several imaginary scenarios kept popping into my head. One evening, I even got my boyfriend to drive me to the pharmacy in the next town as I was convinced the tiny mark on my hand was ringworm. The lady looked at it and told me it definitely wasn’t ringworm. I was probably just washing my hands too much. I had nightmares about relentlessly steam cleaning the house every two days and telling my friends that I wouldn’t be seeing them for three months. I was even planning a new life for the cats where they were permanently indoors. I thought Charlie was the trouble maker, but I could not believe that ultimately, Socks may be responsible for the biggest inconvenience. Even the cattery would not take them if they had ringworm so we may have had to find a last-minute pet sitter or cancel any holiday plans. As you can see, my mind was ‘kept occupied’.
The test came back negative for ringworm – phew! The vet was completely baffled and apologetic. She said she had felt certain of her diagnosis. She found some cream called Surolan that treats “absolutely everything”. It was for bacterial, fungal, ear mite infections and is also an anti-inflammatory and an antipriuritic (itch relief!). The vet rubbed it gently on Socks’s ear as she looked up like a little Angel.
As I watched, I thought ‘phew, at least it isn’t hard to put cream on Socks’. Though this was soon to be proved wrong as later that evening we were faced with Socks pelting out of the kitchen like a bat out of hell at the sight of the cupboard door being opened just to get the cream out. Angel she is not!! It took both of us to catch her, pin her down and apply the cream. Her ear cleared up after two weeks of using the cream and her fur grew back fine. To this day, we still don’t know what was wrong, but I now suspect it was a skin irritation from a plant in the garden. Shame that didn’t come up on google!
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