Ringworm is one of the more common skin infections we find in young animals, but the name itself is somewhat misleading, for it is caused not by a worm but a fungus.
The “ring” part of the name is not always accurate either – although the lesions tend to progress outwards from the centre as the fungus invades and kills off the hair, they are not necessarily round at all.
Many species can be infected with ringworm – cats, dogs, horses, cattle and of course humans. We probably see it most commonly in cats – in fact some cats, mainly longhairs, may become carriers. But in general, ringworm tends to be very much a disease of the young, whatever the species. Humans and animals gradually build up an immunity to it through their lives, though there are always exceptions to the rule.
Ringworm tends not to be itchy in most animals – usually the first sign people see on their pets is an area of hair loss in which the skin looks rather scaly. It is the hair at the edges of this bald patch which will be currently infected, and will give the characteristic fluorescent glow when looked at under ultra-violet light.
Ringworm is passed on by hair to hair contact so that lesions are most commonly found around the head and front paws of pets, though they are by no means confined to these areas. Grooming a pup with a brush that has been used on an infected dog for instance could spread the disease right through its coat. The way people tend to cuddle their pets also means that the face, neck and arms are the main area of infection in humans as well.
In humans, ringworm shows up as small red patches, and contrary to the disease in animals these tend to be quite itchy.
Ringworm is not however regarded as a serious disease. Even those unusual cases which have spread to cover much of the body are not in themselves life threatening, and are readily treatable.
If you think you pet has ringworm it is safest to get it checked by your vet. The extent of the infection is not always visible to the naked eye and treatment will depend on how bad the infection is. Mild cases may be treated simply with anti-fungal ointments or iodine-based solutions. More severe cases will require a course of anti-fungal drugs.
– Virginia Williams & Bert Westera
Q. Referring to your article in the last newsletter – is it true that humans can in fact pass on ringworm to an animal?
A. Yes. Animals that come in contact with a patch of ringworm on human skin can pick up the fungus that causes the infection this way if they are not already resistant. Remember that ringworm is primarily a disease of the young so those people with ringworm need to be particularly careful in handling kittens and puppies for instance. It is advisable for humans to keep infected areas covered to avoid passing on infection to animals or other humans.
Q. I read in a woman’s magazine that the ringworm infection is of similar origin to athlete’s foot, in that they are both fungal infections. Will the one medication cover both types of infection?
A. It is true that both infections are caused by fungi which should be controlled by anti-fungal medications. Athlete’s foot however tends to be a more superficial infection while in ringworm, the fungus gets right down inside the hair follicles. This means that it may be more difficult to treat with topical medication – we usually need to treat severe ringworm infections with a long course of oral medication as well as topical treatment.