All about ringworm

All about ringworm

The very name ‘ringworm’ is somewhat misleading, as the condition known as ringworm, which can occur in dogs, cats, horses, other mammals and even humans, is not actually a worm at all.- something which many pet owners are unaware of. Ringworm is actually a skin condition caused by a parasitic fungus, and is highly contagious. Ringworm is a zoonotic condition- one that can be passed back and forth between humans and animals. Understandably, this is cause for concern, particularly as ringworm is relatively easy to catch, and can be difficult to fully eradicate. If you keep pets, it is important to gain a basic understanding of ringworm, learn how to identify it, and know how to minimise the chances of contracting it for yourself and your pet- as well as what you can do to treat it if it occurs. Read on to find out more!

What is ringworm?

Ringworm, or to give it its scientific name, Dermatophytosis, is a fungal infection that lives on keratin, a protein present in the skin, fingernails and hair of both pets and people. It lives on the surface of the skin, and sometimes around or just below the surface level of the hair or fur. It survives most easily in warm and slightly moist conditions, and so the skin is the perfect host, providing the optimum living conditions for the fungus and a constant source of food. Ringworm is defined as an infectious skin condition rather than a worm infestation, and is a ‘worm’ in name only!

How is ringworm transmitted?

Ringworm is not an airborne condition, but can be transmitted by various other means. Skin to skin contact with an affected area is the main cause of transmission, but contact with clothes, bedding or other surfaces where pets or people affected live or sleep can also pass on the condition. Fungicidal soaps and washing detergents can help to prevent the spread of ringworm, and kill off any spores. In the case of infection of either a person or a pet, ringworm can easily be transmitted by direct contact with the animal in question, or their things. In any household, if one pet of person contracts ringworm, it is all too easy for the others in the house to inadvertently become infected too.

How dangerous is ringworm?

The good news is, although ringworm can be unsightly, and the idea of having a fungal infection is of course not very nice, ringworm is a mild condition which does not generally lead to any complications or more serious health conditions. Ringworm can cause hair or fur in the affected area to fall out, and can be itchy, all of which makes it rather unpleasant- but not dangerous per se.

How can I identify ringworm?

It is generally fairly easy to visually identify ringworm, although it can sometimes be confused with other skin conditions which are similar in appearance, in which case your vet or doctor might perform a skin test to confirm diagnosis. The signs and symptoms of ringworm to be on the lookout for include:

  • A slightly red and possibly raised or inflamed looking patch of skin anywhere on the body, which is often itchy.
  • Ringworm grows outwards, with the live fungi being at the edges of the surface area, leading to the ‘ring’ appearance which gives ringworm its name. The patches may not be perfectly ring shaped, but often have a pronounced darker red area around the borders.
  • Ringworm patches can range in size from an area the size of a 5p piece up to a couple of inches across. Ringworm grows as it progresses, and individual patches of ringworm might spread and merge with each other.
  • The centre of an affected patch may appear to be unaffected, with the area towards the outside becoming pronouncedly redder and darker. The edges of the patch are generally clearly delineated, and may have the appearance of micro-blisters or tiny scabs.
  • In pets, ringworm under the fur may initially present as a slightly raised area of hair in a roughly circular shape, and in time the hair will fall out, revealing a bald patch of skin which is slightly red.

How can ringworm be treated?

Ringworm is relatively simple to treat in itself; but preventing transmission and re-infection can be more of a challenge. Your doctor or vet will generally prescribe a topical fungicidal cream to apply to the affected patches, and explain to you how to avoid re-introducing the condition by means of correct hand washing and cleaning procedures and how to wash clothing or bedding which may be affected. If any of your pets have ringworm, it is also important that you visit a doctor to talk about treating and checking for ringworm in the human members of the family; similarly, if you or one of your children are diagnosed, talk to your vet about ringworm in your pets.

Preventing ringworm

It’s important to remember that while ringworm can be unsightly and should not be left unchecked, and of course, it can easily be passed on to other people and animals, it is not dangerous and is highly unlikely to lead to any other health conditions or complications. Ringworm is a very common condition, so when handling strange animals always be on the lookout for signs of ringworm, and wash your hands thoroughly after handling them before touching any of your own pets.Teach your children about good health and hygiene practice around animals, such as hand washing and not touching their mouth and face directly after petting an animal. Ringworm isn’t totally preventable- but taking these simple steps can go a long way towards minimising its chances of transmission to you, your family and your pets.

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