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Norwich Bulletin - 6/21/2009

Facts About Ringworm

The first thing to learn about ringworm is that it is not a worm and has nothing to do with any type of worm. It was once thought to be caused by a worm curling up in the tissue, because the lesions are often circular, and gave the impression of being a worm. But the truth is that ringworm is nothing more than a fungus, very much like athlete’s foot.

It’s a real pain to have and get rid of, but it is not lethal and there is no cause for extreme panic. I have received emails from people in other parts of the country telling me that their vet has suggested they euthanize their pet because they have ringworm. This is totally ridiculous. Ringworm can be cured with a little bit of patience and about six weeks of time and usually the cat, dog or human (yes, you can get it too) then becomes immune to the fungus.

Ringworm is actually an infection in the dead layer of the skin, hair and nails. The fungus uses this dead tissue as nutrition. As the organism invades and weakens the hair shafts, the hairs break off at the skin line, and so you get patches of round hair loss. As the fungus lives on, the lesions may come in different shapes and spread over the animal’s body.

It usually starts behind or on the ears, on the legs and around the facial area – where the hair tends to be less to start with – but then it continues to spread. The patches of hair loss tend to get crusty and scaly. You want to be careful these scales don’t drop all over your house because they can live in your bedding or carpet for several months and attack when you least expect it.

The incubation period is ten to fourteen days. This means that you never really know if that stray you brought in will have ringworm or not. One of our first rescues consisted of twelve kittens found in the woods (our Zodiac kittens). We were new to rescue so we put them with kittens we already had – we adopted half of them out and two weeks later they all ended up with ringworm, all the kittens they were with had ringworm, the other pets of the people who adopted them, as well as some of their children and in one case the adult herself, all ended up with ringworm. Helping Paws was in lime sulphur dip hell for six weeks. My immune system must have been weak at that time because I did not escape the ringworm curse. But, just like the chicken pox, I am now immune to it.

Ringworm likes to live in moist places. In the woods, in the moss, was a great place for those kittens to find those little spores waiting to get onto them. And since they were abandoned, young and weak, they were all prime candidates for the fungus. Most adult cats and dogs and humans will not contract ringworm, but children are prime candidates and, in fact, in many cases, it is the children that transmit it to the pet!

How do you know if your pet has ringworm? Well, for me when I see those ringworm lesions on the skin and I put the cat under a black light and it turns fluorescent green, I am pretty positive it is ringworm and I will treat for it. There is a culture that can be done but it takes ten days to culture the scraping and by then I can be one quarter done with the treatment.

If you have a new pet bringing it into your home with other animals often causes a bit of stress to everyone which lowers the immune systems so chances are if ringworm is there, most of the household is going to get it. Just like pesky athlete’s foot at a gym – it just catches you totally unawares.

It is transmitted by direct contact between infected and non infected pets and humans. The spores can hide and live in your home for several months so if you end up with the fungus in your home, get out the chlorine bleach and water (not for the animals – for the environment).

There are several methods for treating ringworm and it depends on the severity of the infection, how many pets are involved, if you have children and, of course, your vets suggestions. In most cases I opt for the Lime sulphur dips and in between I use Lotrimin to help kill the fungus topically. I know it will take six weeks and I deal with it.

There are several drugs – only one is approved for use in cats though – Griseofulvin. It has side effects and I have used it when the fungus was so spread out I had to get it under control quickly, but I am not a big fan of the pill. The pills are not absorbed unless the stomach has fat in it at the time the tablet is given. If you are not able to pill your cat and insure he is eating a high fat diet, go to one of the other methods.

I am a proponent of the Lime sulphur because even though it takes three to four dips at ten days apart, it is a very effective form of treatment as long as you can take the rotten egg smell! There is a ringworm vaccine out now which I just found out about, that helps a cat develop immunity and will hasten recovery. Something worth trying.

Treatment does not produce immediate results. Usually when you begin treatment, it gets worse before it get better. But within one to two weeks the hair loss should stop and there should be no new areas of hair loss. Your pet remains contagious for about three weeks so you need to take precautions during treatment.

So do not panic if your pet turns up with ringworm. It’s a pain but it can be treated. It is not going to cause lasting damage to you, your children or your pet so just relax and deal with it.

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