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. 

Lungworm

It’s no secret there’s a new kid in town, and that’s Angiostrongylus vasorum, better known as lungworm. In all reality lungworm isn’t a new parasite to the community and its prevalence has potentially been exaggerated by pharmaceutical companies. That being said, this parasite can be dangerous and potentially fatal to your pet, so let’s take a quick look at what pet owners should know about lungworm.

The lowdown on lungworm:

Lungworm is a parasite that is found in both dogs and cats. They are species-specific. This means that dog lungworms (Angiostrongylus vasorum) infect dogs and cat lungworms (Aelurostrongylus abstrusus) infect cats. These worms are not spread directly pet to pet, but instead through intermediate hosts. Just think of the intermediate host as the middle man. The intermediate host needed for completing the lungworm life cycle is a slug or snail. Your pet may consume a slug/snail (or even just their slime), swallows the lungworm larvae into the intestinal tract, where they develop and migrate through the body. The end target location are the blood vessels in the lungs (+/- heart). Here adults develop and make more larvae, which are coughed up, swallowed, and returned to the gut to come out in the stools. New slugs/snails consume larvae and the cycle starts again. It has been documented that foxes are becoming a major carrier/spreader of lungworm. Foxes become infected the same way dogs do, and then larvae are passed in the faeces to infect more slugs/snails that then can be consumed by our pets. 

Pets at higher risk are those that spend a lot of time outside and like to explore. These pets are more likely to come into contact with slug/snail slime or to consume them directly. It can even be as simple as drinking water or chewing on plants that have small slugs or slime in them! Another common culprit are toys or bowls that live outside and have touched an infected slug or snail. Cases of lungworm in the UK have been documented in higher numbers in the south, though it is anticipated cases in northern England, Scotland and Ireland will continue to rise. 

Check for signs:

Signs your pet is infected with lungworm can be variable. It may be as general as weight loss, vomiting, and decreased appetite. This can progress to coughing and even bleeding abnormalities. Your vet can do a few tests to diagnose lungworm. These include a special faecal test called a Baerman funnel, a blood test called an ELISA, x-rays of the lungs looking for damage, as well as a scope of the airways to collect a sample looking for larvae. Treatment is variable depending on how severely your pet is affected. Hospitalisation is needed in some cases, and as mentioned occasional cases can be fatal. 

One of my mantras when it comes to medicine is, PREVENTION is key. Prevention is always better than treatment in lungworm cases. What many pet owners don’t realise is that there is not one wormer that treats all types of worms. This is why it is essential you discuss your pets specific needs/risks with a vet to determine the best parasite preventative for them. Many products out on the market that owners know as “wormer” will treat the most common types such as roundworm or hookworms, but not tapeworms or lungworms.

Tops tips to prevent lungworm in your furry friends…

  1. Assess your pet’s risk with a vet. VetBox subscribers have free access to vet support.
  2. Monitor your pets when outside (try your best to prevent them eating slugs and snails).
  3. Pick up your pets poo and clean outside toys/bowls. 
  4. Be on the lookout for foxes in your area (primarily their faeces in your garden).

Get in touch with the VetBox vet team to discuss your pet’s specific risks.

For up to date expertise on small animal parasites, visit the European Scientific Council on Companion Animal Parasites website at: 

https://www.esccap.org/national-associations/UK+and+Ireland/11/

Why getting a microchip for your pet is best:

In today’s world it’s easy to find lots of fun and creative ways to ensure the world knows they’re yours. Personalised tags with names, phrases, and owner contact information are available far and wide. Collars in colours and patterns range from rainbow to fine leather. While these are encouraged for recognition in case you find yourself separated from your pet, what’s important to remember is the most reliable way to link your pet to you is a MICROCHIP! Here’s why choosing the chip is best:

It won’t get lost:

Once a microchip is inserted, it’s in there for good. Microchips are made to be inserted under the skin using a needle on an application device. The skin heals over the small hole and the microchip remains in the subcutaneous tissue for the life of the animals. These won’t fall off like a collar, and can’t be easily removed.

It’s easy and cost effective:

Microchipping your pets is quick and can be done at the vets in just a few minutes. Registering the chip with your name and contact information is just as simple, and can be done in under five minutes online. Once registered with the company who makes the chip, you can log on and change your information. This is especially useful if you move house or get a new phone number. Microchip accounts also allow you to put in the contact information of your vet! The process is also cost effective. Many chip application and registration fees can be as little as £15, and only have to be paid once during the life of the animal.

It’s reliable: 

All vets and rescues/shelters have a microchip reader that allows them to scan pets that come in for a chip. If your pet gets lost, runs away, or is stolen and is brought to a vet or rescue, the first thing they will do is check for a chip. This then allows for them to contact the microchip company, and in turn for the company to contact you! What’s just as essential is ensuring that the contact information registered on the microchip is up to date. There are many occasions when rescue staff are unable to return a pet to its owner because the contact information on the chip is old or inaccurate. Having your pet microchipped and with up to date information is essential to getting your pet returned to you safely.

It’s the internationally recognised method of animal identification:

Ever wanted to travel out of the country with your pet? Then they will absolutely need to have an active, readable 15 digit microchip in them for identification purposes. These are required, and if not able to be read, your pet may be refused entry or kept in quarantine at your travel destination. This may also apply if your microchip isn’t upto date.

RELATED – How to take care of your pets in hot weather

For these reasons, we strongly encourage people to microchip their pets. It’s a safe, quick, and reliable way to ensure you have the best chance of finding your pet if they ever were to be separated from you or if you ever plan to travel outside the country with them. Be sure to choose the chip! 

Ready to take the stress out of pet healthcare? Start your journey here

Caring for senior pets

Age is just a number, right? With all the advances in veterinary care over the years our pets are living longer healthier lives. That being said, it’s key pet owners are aware that the needs of your pet WILL change with age. Just because your pets are aging however, doesn’t mean they still can’t have a fantastic quality of life. Today’s blog is going to focus on important considerations for senior pet parents to help keep our golden oldies happy!

Regular vet visits are a must.

Pets are great at hiding problems, especially cats. While annual vet visits are important for pets of all ages, senior pets benefit from being seen more frequently. An exam with your vet every 6 months with your vet may be more appropriate for your senior pet. This allows for a good once over and potentially blood/urine testing to check organ function. 

Dietary needs change as pets age. 

Senior pets tend to require nutrients in different quantities than young and adult pets. Check that the food you are feeding is labelled for “senior” life stages or “mature adult”. Some products may also say best over a certain age like “7+”. There are even great diets out there that can support brain health in senior pets, particularly those with cognitive changes (see below). 

Weight management has always been key to good health, but it’s crucial for senior pets. 

Maintaining a healthy weight is essential for pets of all ages, but in our senior pets it’s even more crucial we avoid excess weight. Any weight above your pets “ideal” body condition not only exponentially increases their risks for developing diseases like diabetes or cardiac problems, but also skyrockets the amount of pain and inflammation in their joints. Senior pets are much more likely to suffer from arthritis and chronic pain, with overweight pets experiencing discomfort at a higher level. 

Routine is our friend. 

Senior pets are often more easily stressed by change. New places, people, and schedules are a common source of anxiety. Sticking as best as you can to a daily routine helps decrease anxiety. This can include waking up/going to bed at similar times, feeding at the same time in the same place, and engaging in activity at the same times. 

Decline in mobility and chronic pain are a common obstacle.

Like we mentioned in the weight section, arthritis is an issue in many senior pets. This contributes to a decline in mobility and difficult performing tasks that used to be easy or normal. Even changes as simple as sleeping more, being slower to get up or lay down, or not following you around the house may indicate pain. 

We need to consider joint support much more seriously as patients age, which may mean interventions such as joint support diets, supplements, pain control, weight control, etc. This may also mean changing your home, such as laying down carpets on slippery floors, blocking off stairs, making a ramp/small stairs to get on beds/couches, and ensuring easy access to food/water/litter boxes. 

TIP: Consider low walled non covered litter boxes on each level of your home for senior kitties! They’re much more likely to use them if they are easy to get TO and get IN.

Is your pet ignoring you? It might be a decline in their hearing or vision. 

While I firmly believe my older golden retriever has “selective hearing” (i.e. ignores me when I call him to come inside, but comes running to the kitchen if I open a bag of cheese), your pet ignoring you may actually be a sign that they are losing their hearing or vision. Making adjustments to how we signal our pets can help them adjust to these changes.

  • For pets losing hearing, start training for visual cues for sit/stay/come. 
  • For pets losing vision, consider soft verbal cues with an associated touch for commands. 
  • Avoid moving furniture if you can for pets with vision loss, as they often memorize the location of things within the home and associate them in relation to surrounding objects and smell.

Changes in behaviour might be more than just “getting old”….it could be cognitive dysfunction. 

Some changes in behavior with age are inevitable, but disorientation, confusion, anxiety, and changes in sleeping patterns may indicate a bigger problem. Check out our blog on canine cognitive dysfunction for more detailed information about this neurobehavioral disorder, and the importance of discussing it with your vet. 

Regular, short, low impact activity is encouraged!

Older pets may have the inclination to not participate in activity as whole heartedly as they used to. This may simply be due to normal changes like increased sleep needs and lower energy level, but also can be related to chronic pain. Keeping our senior pets moving in a safe and low impact manner is strongly encouraged. This helps promote a healthy weight, happy joints, and provides mental stimulation. Short walks are an easy free way to keep your pet moving, but also things like hydrotherapy (water therapy) or chiropractic work with a vet can make a major difference in comfort level. 

Vaccinations and parasite prevention are STILL important.  

Just because your pet is older, doesn’t mean they aren’t targets of infectious disease and parasites. Their risk level for certain types of these may differ based on lifestyle, however age alone does not prohibit pets from picking up things like viruses or worms. Vets regularly see adult and senior dogs positive for intestinal parasites that are not receiving regular preventatives. Senior pets still require protection, and the needs of your pet should be discussed with your vet. 

Love them a little (or a lot) extra.

Even though our senior pets might not be quite as active or rambunctious as they used to be, they’re still our babies. They still rely on us to provide for them, and cherish our days together more so than ever. I encourage people to remember to give their senior pet a little extra love every day, and remember how many wonderful times you’ve shared!

Dr. Kirsten Ronngren, DVM MRCVS