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Ringworm in pets

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Despite its name, ringworms in pets (also known as dermatophytosis) in pets is caused by fungus, not by worms. Fungi known as dermatophytes can infect your pet's hair and dead skin, leading to bald, scaly areas with broken hairs. These areas can show up simply as patches, or as rings, which are more common in cats.

Ringworm shows up most often on the feet, face, ears, and tail. The infection is usually confined to hair, nails, and dead skin, but inflammation and redness of other parts of the skin can develop from the body's immune response to the fungus. This inflammation can cause your pet to itch and scratch, and a secondary bacterial infection may develop. Ringworm is infectious and can be passed to other animals or to people in the household.

Ringworm can be diagnosed in a variety of ways. Some of these fungal organisms will fluoresce under ultraviolet light, so your veterinarian may be able to make the diagnosis during your pet's visit by examining its hair and skin under a special light. In some cases, your veterinarian may recommend a fungal culture, in which a sample of your pet's hair and skin cells are placed on a special medium in an attempt to grow the fungus for both diagnosis and identification. Cultures can take several days to a couple of weeks. Sometimes, fungal material can also be seen directly under the microscope.

Ringworm can clear up on its own, but treatment speeds recovery and helps prevent the condition from being passed to other animals (and people) in the household. Repeated bathing with a medicated shampoo removes dead hair and skin and inhibits fungal development. Oral medications are also available for your pet, and usually need to be continued for weeks to months. All pets in the household may need to be treated, because some animals can carry ringworm without showing any signs of infection. Pet bedding, brushes, and other household items in contact with your pet may need to be cleaned or discarded.

Q&A

What is ringworm in pets?

Ringworm is an infection caused by fungi (known as dermatophytes) that can multiply in hair and dead skin, thereby leading to bald, scaly areas with broken hairs.  


What parts of the body are most often affected?

Ringworm shows up most often on the paws, face, ears, and tail.  The infection is usually confined to hair, nails, and dead skin, but inflammation and redness of other parts of the skin can develop from immune response to the fungus.  


Can I or my family catch ringworm from my pet?

Ringworm is infectious and can be passed to other animals or to people in the household.


How is this condition diagnosed?

A ringworm infection will sometimes fluoresce when viewed under ultraviolet light, but fungal cultures are often needed to confirm the diagnosis.


How is ringworm treated in pets?

Ringworm can be treated with medicated baths to remove dead material and inhibit fungal development, or with oral medications.  Effective treatment may take weeks to months, and all pets in the household may need to be treated to prevent reinfection.

Credit: Written and reviewed by John A. Bukowski, DVM, MPH, PhDand Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS
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