What is it?
When I started breeding and showing Persian cats 15 years ago, I learned the hard way how troublesome ringworm can be. The persistent spores spread easily around the home and cattery. In order to treat ringworm, you need to remember these three basic steps:
1. Treat your animal(s)
2. Treat your environment
3. Don’t stop treating too soon
With this in mind, let’s investigate what ringworm is and how it affects people, pets, and your environment.
Ringworm or dermatophytosis is a fungal infection of skin, nails, and hair. In addition to affecting a variety of animals, ringworm is contagious to people. Children and people with suppressed immune systems are especially vulnerable. Ringworm spores can survive for years in a suitable environment. Three species, including Microsporum canis, Microsporum gypseum, and Trichophyton mentagrophytes, account for 95% of all cases in dogs and cats.
Unfortunately, ringworm knows no boundaries. It lives in soil and can be carried by rodents, fleas, and mites. Animals, especially those allowed outdoors, can be free of symptoms while carrying the spores on their skin or hair. People with athlete’s foot can also be carriers. Ringworm spreads easily from person to person, animal to animal, and animal to person. In addition, many objects in your house, cattery, or kennel can be carriers. Two good examples of this are carpeting and heating/air conditioning systems.
How do I know my pet has it?
Ringworm is a great imposter because it can vary in its presentations. The most common type of infection in animals occurs when dermatophytes penetrate the skin and invade the hair follicles. Affect skin may become scaly or crusty. Infected hairs become brittle, dry, lusterless, and often break off. This produces the characteristic bald patches. If you suspect that your pet may have ringworm, a visit to your veterinarian is advisable. Fungal cultures and a Woods lamp are two of the tools use in the diagnosis of ringworm.
How do I treat it?
Treating the pet. If your pet has received the dreaded diagnosis of ringworm, begin treatment immediately. Keep in mind that you will need to treat both the pet and the environment.
Because ringworm is so contagious, your infected pet or pets should be kept isolated from other animals until the ringworm infection clears up. Do not show the animal, allow people to handle it, or allow it to be around non-infected animals.
If your pet has long hair, it is a good idea to clip the hair around the affected areas. This will make it easier for the treatments to reach the infected skin areas. Be very careful to discard all cut hair in a closed bag and vacuum up any loose hairs from the area where you were working. Any infected hairs that stay around can continue to infect your environment for a long time.
The next step is to bathe your animal in a shampoo that is both gentle to the skin and effective at killing ringworm spores. By bathing your animal once or twice a week, you remove spores from the fur and facilitate the healing process of the ringworm lesions.
After you have bathed your animal, treat the lesions with a medicated spray or medicated lotion. The lotion or sprays should be the kind that both kills the ringworm and keeps it from spreading. Follow the directions on your medication. Most medicated lotions or sprays are to be applied once or twice a day.
In some cases the ringworm can get into your pet’s bloodstream and will require internal medication. It is best to treat the ringworm only topically, however, in tenacious or widespread cases some internal medication may be needed in addition to the external treatment. Your veterinarian will prescribe an appropriate systemic antifungal medication if it is necessary.
Treating the environment. When treating the environment, remember that spores can be anywhere, including in the air. It is good to use your vacuum cleaner often and then throw away the bag to keep the spores from continuing to grow and spread. Clean the entire house with a product that will first kill the ringworm and then protect against recontamination by means of residual effect. Using a product with residual effect is very important in breaking the ringworm cycle. A residually-active product will also save you time and effort. Disinfect or replace your furnace filter once a week. Also disinfect the ducts, vents, and other places that air passes through. Furthermore, any furniture that your infected pet has been on should be vacuumed or disinfected. Continue this disinfecting process until your pet is completely well.
How do I keep it from coming back?
You can breathe a sigh of relief as you see your pet’s skin returning to normal. However, it is extremely important not to stop treating the environment too soon! Those nasty little spores can still be lurking around, ready to infect another person or animal. Some experts believe that spores can continue the disinfecting process for at least 3 weeks after your animal is free from all clinical signs. Make sure to keep bathing your animal every week for at least a month beyond the time when the ringworm symptoms stopped.
In addition, pay special attention to your animal’s overall health and condition. Animals that are sick, overcrowded, stressed, poorly groomed, or malnourished are more susceptible to contracting ringworm. A regular bath with an antifungal shampoo is a wise idea for animals that are being showed or have contact with other animals and people.