Ringworm is caused by a specific type of fungus and not a worm. The name comes from a time when doctors believed a worm caused the infection. The name stuck with the disease long after it was discovered that the disease was caused by a fungal infection. The proper name for the disease is dermatophytosis, deriving from dermatophyte, the fungus that infects the skin. Ringworm can be difficult to diagnose in pets because it looks similar to most skin lesions. Unlike the typical appearance of the raised round or ring like reddish brown lesion in humans, most ringworm infections in pets appear to be dry, grey or pink with a scaly patch of skin.
Ringworm is a contagious disease and it is most commonly seen in young children, elderly people, pets or immunocompromised patients (both human and animal). The disease is passed when spores get onto the skin and have a chance to grow. Moist environments will help fungus flourish (which is why athlete’s foot is such a common fungal infection). Most healthy people will not have a problem with ringworm infections, but if you notice any skin lesions talk to your physician.
The spores of these fungi are very relentless and can survive in the environment for long periods of time. Pets infected with ringworm shed spores when their hair breaks off and falls into the environment. Some animals are carriers of the disease and never show any clinical signs. Some types of fungus can come from soil so it is important to determine the type or species of the fungus in order to determine its source.
Veterinarians will often times perform some basic tests to make sure that your pet has dermatophytosis. A special lamp will cause the spores of the fungus to fluoresce. However, there are several species of the fungus that will not “light up” under special lighting. A fur sample could give your veterinarian a more precise diagnosis as to which species of fungus is causing the problem. Some skin lesions are so abnormal that your veterinarian will need a skin biopsy to get the proper diagnosis.
The key to any treatment protocol is commitment. Exterminating ringworm from your pet and his environment can be a challenge due to spores’ rugged nature. Your veterinarian will help you determine the best treatment protocol for your pet and home. Remember to follow the instructions and finish all the medications given because the visual evidence may go away before the infection is completely cleared. For more information about how ringworm affects pets, please contact your veterinarian.