What is ringworm?
Ringworm is a fungal infection which can affect the hair, skin and nails. Dogs, cats and other animals as well as people can be affected. Lesions can vary greatly in appearance from a small patch of scales on the skin and broken hairs to more severe lesions including scales, crusts, areas of hair loss and sometimes secondary bacterial infections. Sometimes the lesions may be itchy. Often lesions begin on the head or face but can develop in any area. Some animals can carry the infection without showing any signs at all.
Ringworm can be diagnosed by several methods. Your vet may use a fluorescent light called a Wood's lamp which will cause some ringworm lesions to fluoresce. In some cases this test will not be sufficient and fungal culture or skin biopsy may be required.
If your animal has been diagnosed with ringworm there are several different levels of treatment. A topical cream may be used if there are only a few small lesions. More serious infection requires medical treatment. A tablet called Griseofulvin is the medication most commonly prescribed. Your vet will dispense these tablets to you and you may be instructed to give them once or twice a day.
Treatment duration can vary from three to six weeks. The most likely side effect of this medication is gastrointestinal upset. If this is a problem then you may be instructed to divide the dose up and give a smaller dose three to four times a day. These tablets should be given with a fatty type meal as this improves absorption of the drug and minimises the likelihood of side effects. Clipping of the hair and bathing with anti-fungal shampoos may also be recommended. Cats that are positive for feline immunodeficiency virus or pregnant animals should not be given Griseofulvin tablets.
You will be asked to return to your vet towards the end of treatment to ensure your animal has responded.
Is ringworm contagious?
As ringworm is contagious all other in-contact animals in your home should be checked for infection and treated if necessary. The fungus that causes ringworm can live in the environment for up to 52 months! Any contaminated items, like bedding, should be disposed of. To help clean up the environment, vacuuming twice a week (dispose of bag and contents afterwards) will help. Diluted bleach (1:10) is also helpful for cleaning exposed areas. The infected animal should be kept quarantined in an area of the house to minimise environmental contamination of your home and exposure to animals and people.
Ringworm is a zoonotic disease which means that people can also catch it. If you develop any suspicious skin lesions you should consult your family doctor.