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Published: Dec 06, 2011

Pets can develop a number of skin problems and, according to VCA Animal Hospitals, ringworm is one of the more common skin issues pets.  Ringworm is especially important because it can be zoonotic—meaning it can be spread between pets and people.

VCA reports that ringworm is a fungal infection of the superficial layers of the skin, nails and/or hair. It is called ringworm based on the "ring-like” markings it makes around the boundary of the infected areas. This name is somewhat misleading as the infection isn't caused by a worm and sometimes it doesn't even show up in a ring shape.  Typically there will be patchy hair loss, sometimes scabbed areas and it is usually not an itchy skin condition.  If the nails are infected, they may become pitted in appearance, brittle and prone to cracking or splitting.  Ringworm is caused by a specialized group of fungus called dermatophytes, hence the medical name for the problem, dermatophytosis.

Ringworm is highly contagious and can be passed between infected and non-infected pets through direct contact or contact with contaminated objects. Fungal spores can remain dormant on grooming tools like brushes or combs or on other items such as food bowls, furniture, bedding, carpeting and more. Clinical signs of ringworm typically show up between 7 and 14 days after the animal comes in contact with the fungus, though some pets won't show the obvious signs, but may still be infected, VCA reports.  These pets serve as carriers and pose a risk for spreading the disease.

If a pet shows signs of ringworm or is experiencing unexplained hair loss, owners should bring it to a veterinarian health clinic to be examined.  If a diagnosis of ringworm is made, a vet will start the pet on treatments to avoid spreading the infection to other pets or human family members. Many times a combination of topical medication and oral medication is used to clear up the problem.  Close monitoring is necessary to ensure a pet has been cleared of ringworm.  It is important to follow your vets treatment recommendations and recheck schedule to prevent ringworm from becoming a chronic problem.