Ringworm, also known as dermatophytosis, is not caused by a worm despite its name. This is a common fungal infection of the skin, nails or hair which can affect all species of animals (both pets and livestock) and even humans. It is highly contagious to people, especially those with a compromised immune system, the elderly and children.

Signs to look out for

As most animals have a dense coat of hair or fur, it can be difficult to identify lesions. Despite the name “ringworm”, unlike in humans, lesions do not necessarily appear as circular “ring-like” reddened regions. Typically, you may see some hair loss and some dandruff-like scaling of the skin. The lesions can occur anywhere, but are most frequently seen on the head, neck, limbs or tail.
In humans, the characteristic sign is a circular area of red inflamed skin, hence the name. These lesions are usually itchy and may be seen on the hands, nails, scalp, groin, armpits and feet.

How can people and animals become infected?

There are various ways that people and animals can be infected. Some species of the fungus may be found within the soil, others are transmitted between animals and then passed on to people. Generally, either indirect or direct contact with fungal spores contained on the skin or within the hair can result in infection. Indirect contact can involve contaminated pieces of furniture, bedding, grooming tools and tack. Exposure to the fungus does not necessarily result in infection, as this will depend on immune status and skin integrity as well as whether the animal or you have been exposed to the fungus before.

Diagnosis of ringworm

If you suspect that any of your animals have ringworm, a consult with your veterinarian is vital. Your veterinarian may use a variety of diagnostic tests, as well as observation, to decide whether the animal is infected. A Wood’s lamp, which is an ultraviolet lamp, may be used to show fungal excretions on the hair shafts. This will only show for a certain type of fungi though, not all fungal species that cause ringworm, so the test is not definitive. If these are present, there will be a yellow-green fluorescence observed. Your veterinarian may take a sample of hair surrounding the suspected lesion where fungal spores may be seen under the microscope. In addition to this, the vet is able to do a culture test within house which may take between 48 hours and 2 weeks to get a result. This also may help to differentiate between which type of fungi are involved. Due to the contagious nature of this disease though, your veterinarian will usually recommend treatment if they suspect ringworm, regardless of the diagnostic results.

Treatment of ringworm

Depending on the severity of the infection, there are a number of treatment options. If your animal only has a limited number of lesions, anti-fungal creams and ointments may be prescribed for you to apply directly (wearing gloves) to the lesions. If the infection is more widespread, an anti-fungal shampoo may be recommended. In addition to this, oral medication may also be prescribed. Your animal will need to take these for at least 6 weeks as the infection can take a long time to clear up. If you have multiple animals at home, it is important that the infected animal is isolated and that when handling it you always wear gloves. Whilst you are treating the animal, it is also recommended that your house is thoroughly cleaned. Ensure that all bedding items, grooming implements and tack (if it is a horse) are cleaned, the carpets are well vacuumed and that all hard surfaces are disinfected. Make sure your hands are thoroughly washed (for at least 30 seconds) after handling an infected animal.

If you suspect that you may have a lesion, please contact your own healthcare professional for advice regarding treatment.

If you suspect that your animal may have a ringworm lesion, contact your friendly veterinarian at Ourimbah Veterinary Hospital.