The scoop on Ringworm

There are more than a few organisms out there that can be passed from pets to people. One we often forget is the fungi better known as “ringworm”. Also referred to as dermatophytosis, ringworm can be spread from animals to people in addition to person-person and animal-animal transmission. On today’s blog we’re going to go over the most important things pet owners should know about ringworm.

What exactly is ringworm?

Even though it’s most widely known as a “worm”, ringworm is actually caused by infection with a fungus. 

Ringworm in pets is caused by one of two species; Microsporum canis or Trichophyton mentagrophytes. Both of these are zoonotic which means they can also infect humans. 

How do pets get ringworm?

Ringworm may be spread in several ways, but most commonly is by direct contact with an infected animal or infection from contamination in the environment. 

Ringworm is a major environmental concern, as the fungus can remain viable on fomites (inanimate objects that carry an organism) such as kennels, blankets, toys, etc. for several months. 

Ringworm is more common in young and immunocompromised animals, particularly those coming from high volume animal situations such as shelters, rescues, etc. These areas are more high risk because animals are housed close together and in confined spaces. This is why ringworm is particularly common in kittens, as young litters are often kept together in the same confined space.

What does ringworm look like in pets? In people?

Typically pets will experience areas of hair loss with scaling/crusting. It may or may not also be red at the site. Sometimes lesions are so mild hardly any changes are noticeable.

Pets with ringworm may or may not be pruritic (itchy). 

While ringworm can be seen anywhere, the most common locations where lesions are seen include the head/face and limbs/feet.

People often get the more classic “ring like” lesion on their skin, but it may be as simple as a red circular areas. The lesions are also typically itchy, but do not have to be.

Can it be treated? 

Ringworm can absolutely be treated, though it takes diligence on everyone’s part. Lesions on animals may be treatable with topical therapy alone including antifungal ointments and/or medicated fungal bathes. These are safe and effective, but can be challenging to do for cats. Oral antifungals may also be used for more severe cases. 

Treatment often needs to be continued for several weeks.

  • Treating the environment is just as important. 
      • Ideally infected pets should be quarantined for the first few weeks of treatment to an easily cleanable area such as a bathroom/laundry room. This will localize any shedding of fungal spores. These rooms also have surfaces that are easily bleached. Ringworm in the environment is very susceptible to bleach based cleaners.
      • Clean any areas possible with an appropriately diluted bleach based cleaner.
      • Vacuum carpeted areas. 
      • Wash any common bedding/blankets that your pet has come in contact with in hot water.
      • Wearing long sleeves and gloves when handling your pet, as well as good hand hygiene are also essential to decreasing chances of becoming infected yourself. 

Can it be prevented?

Avoiding exposure all together is unlikely, so good hygiene and environmental management is key in these cases. While this also falls on breeders, rescues, etc., it is important for pet owners and new adopters to be on the lookout for signs of ringworm. 

Healthy adults are at low risk of infection, unless spores have access to an open scratch/wound. Those at higher risk include the elderly, children, and immunocompromised individuals.

What should I do if I think I have it?

If you believe you have ringworm, please do not ask your vet for treatment. Contact your doctor at your local GP surgery to schedule a consultation or to get recommendations. 

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