The Backyard Hazards series of articles focuses on the diseases that you or your pet may be at risk of contracting, right in your own backyard.
Don’t let the name fool you: this condition is not caused by a worm at all. Ringworm is a fungal infection that gets its name from the red, itchy ring-like rash that it causes. Also known as dermatophytosis, this fungus can be transmitted from pets to humans. In fact, humans can also acquire an infection without the help of animals — in this case, it’s better known as athlete’s foot.
SYMPTOMS OF RINGWORM
Fungi known as dermatophytes are to blame for this condition. Those infected (both people and animals) can display the following symptoms:
- Red circular rash;
- Scaly and crusty skin; and
- Broken, brittle hair and hair loss in affected areas.
HOW IS RINGWORM TRANSMITTED?
Ringworm can be easily transmitted among animals and people when direct contact with infected skin or hair occurs. It is also possible to contract ringworm by touching contaminated blankets and other objects that an infected animal has been using. In pets, signs can begin to show at one to four weeks from infection. It can take up to two weeks for you to show signs of being infected with ringworm from your pet.
HOW IS RINGWORM TREATED?
Ringworm can be treated in both animals and people with oral and topical antifungals, including shampoos and creams prescribed by your veterinarian and family doctor.
It is important to ensure you are eliminating as many of the fungal spores in the environment, as well, by cleaning areas your pet frequents often and washing their laundry to prevent re-infection.
Ringworm can be eliminated in the environment with the use of household cleaners, such as bleach at a dilution of one part bleach to 10 parts water. It is important to remember that a one-time cleaning will not suffice. Thorough cleaning needs to be maintained until you and your pet are both free of the infection, as spores can continue to be shed in the environment while the infection is active.
PREVENTION OF RINGWORM
If you bring a new animal into your home that may have ringworm, it is important to keep them isolated from the other animals in your home until they have been cleared of the infection by your veterinarian.
To keep yourself protected, consider the following:
- Wash your hands after you handle your pet;
- Consider wearing gloves and long-sleeved shirts and pants when handling your pet;
- Vacuum regularly to get rid of dander and hair that may be infected;
- Wash and disinfect pets’ bedding and toys frequently to cut down on the fungal load in their environment;
- If you are immune compromised, have another member of your family handle your infected pet.
If you suspect your pet may have ringworm, your best bet is to make an appointment with your veterinarian to receive a proper diagnosis and treatment. It is also wise to have all of the animals in your home examined to ensure they are free of the fungal infection due to its ease of transmission.
Kristina Cooper is a Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT) and proud member of the Ontario Association of Veterinary Technicians (OAVT). She has previously worked in both small animal practice and a municipal animal shelter. With a special interest in the relationship between animal and human health she is currently the Provincial Manager of the OAVT Public Health Rabies Response Program and an active One Health Initiative advocate. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org