Vet Tips
October 4, 2023

When Fungi is No Fun: Ringworm in Pets

Ringworm is a fungal skin infection in pets, no real worms included! It causes itchy, flaky skin and hairloss. It can be passed from pets to people, so learn what to look for and how to keep your home fungus free.

Mom cat and kitten grooming

Worms or Fungus?

Let's clear up the first misconception right away: ringworm has nothing to do with worms! In fact, it's a sneaky fungal infection from a type of fungus called. dermatophytes, that can be passed from pets to people. It mainly affects the skin but can also infect hair follicles and nails. Pets get ringworm the same way people do: by touching someone or something with ringworm, like a littermate or grooming supplies. Brace yourself, though, because it's not a quick-fix situation.

What does Ringworm Look Like?

For our furry pals, ringworm can show up as these weird round patches where their fur mysteriously disappears, leaving behind red, flaky skin. They might also sport hair that looks like it's seen better days, along with some bumpy, scaly spots. Oh, and did we mention the itchiness? It's a real bother, especially around the face, ears, nails, and paws. But ringworm can pop up anywhere it pleases.

Ringworm on a cat's ear
Photo Credit: Dr. Kathryn Ambrose, Veterinary Partner

Now, when you suspect ringworm, it's time for a vet visit. There are few tests your vet will likely do but one of the fitst things they may try is a nifty gadget called a Wood's lamp, which shines UV light on your pet's coat and skin. If it glows yellowish-green in the dark, you might have a ringworm suspect on your hands, but don't rely solely on this magic lamp—it's not 100% accurate. Your vet will likely do more tests, such as a examining hair under the microscope and performing a fungal culture.

Ringworm glowing under a Wood's lamp
Photo Credit: Dr. Anthea Schick, DVM360

For the most definitive answer a fungal culture is the way to go. They'll pluck some fur and scrape a bit of skin to collect a sample, but don't worry, it won't hurt your pet. However, the results take time—up to three weeks! The culture needs time to grow, and sometimes, they'll repeat the test during treatment to make sure the pesky fungus is gone.

Treating Ringworm

Speaking of treatment, it's a multi-pronged attack with shampoos, creams, and oral antifungal meds. It's really important to follow all the instructions for as long as your vet recommends. Stopping too soon can give ringworm the upper hand, and nobody wants that. So, give your pet the full course of antifungal meds and follow those topical treatment instructions to a T.

But it doesn't end there. You've got to disinfect your pet's living space, too. The spores can hang around on surfaces in your home ready to re-infect your pets. Grab some diluted bleach or the right disinfectant to get things squeaky clean. Vacuum rugs, furniture, and toss that vacuum bag pronto. Don't forget to scrub those hardwood floors and sanitize pet bedding and other favorite hangout spots.

Ringworm can be passed from pets to people, especially small children and those with compromised immune systems. So if you suspect ringworm in anyone in your household, don't hesitate to give your doctor a ring. It's essential that everyone gets the right treatment. The last thing you want is to keep passing it around the family!