Ringworm In Horses

Good news! Ringworm in horses is fairly easy to treat once you're able to diagnose the condition. The bad news... Equine ringworm is also easily spread to other animals and humans. That's why prompt diagnosis of the condition can be crucial in alleviating a lot of discomfort for horse owners and their beloved horses.

Horse ringworm also known as girth itch can be frustrating and irritating to deal with. Between the unattractive skin lesions and the time consuming efforts needed to control the infection, many horse owners are left bewildered wondering how they can best manage and treat ringworm. So, I've compiled a list of the most common questions horse owners ask when it comes dealing with ringworm.

What Exactly Is Ringworm?

Ringworm is a skin infection caused by a fungus. Generally, the fungus is able to enter the body through a break or tear in the skin. Your horse may have had a minor scratch or other open wound. This enabled the fungus to enter and then invade your horse's hair follicles.

The fungi that cause ringworm like to feed off of dead skin, hair, and nail cells. Once in your horse's hair follicles the fungus begins cause skin breakdown and the well-known circular lesion associated with ringworm in horses.

Most horses that get ringworm are infected with the fungus Trichophyton equinum. But, that doesn't mean your horse can't contract other types of ringworm causing fungi. Horses can get ringworm from other animals like cats, dogs, and cattle.

What Causes Ringworm in Horses?

Well, fungi is the actual cause of ringworm. But, certain circumstances can increase your horse's risk of developing ringworm.

Crowded conditions can cause the incidence of ringworm in horses to skyrocket. Why? Horses are in tight cramped quarters, with skin-to-skin contact. They may also be stressed, which lowers their immunity as well. Keep this in mind if you and your horse attend any group racing or training facilities.

Do you live in a moist, humid environment? Balmy weather conditions can contribute to the development of ringworm. Remember...fungi grow best in warm and wet conditions.

On the other hand, horses can also get ringworm during cold, dry months. During winter months, horses are more likely to be housed together in cramped close living quarters.

Young horses, sick horses, and horses with lowered immune systems are particularly susceptible to getting ringworm. If you have a horse taking steroids for a medical condition, they are at greater risk of getting girth itch than other healthy horses.

How Do I Know If It's Really Ringworm?

You probably won't know if your horse has ringworm unless it's seen by a vet. Ringworm in horses can look like other skin diseases, like rain rot, so it's best to have your veterinarian take a look.

Your vet will determine if your horse has ringworm by using a Wood's light and/or a hair/skin culture or scraping. When light is shined from a Wood's light or ultraviolet lamp fungal infected skin cells to appear to glow.

It's important to get a proper diagnosis from your vet. Using the wrong type of medication to treat ringworm, may actually make the condition worse.

What Does Horse Ringworm Look Like?

Usually, horse ringworm starts off as a small area of dry, scaly skin. Then, it grows to larger patches of red, circular lesions. These lesions may be draining or open, which can lead to other bacterial skin infections on your horse.

Depending upon the type of fungus, ringworm lesions on a horse generally originate anywhere from the face and neck to the girth. You might see an area of thinned or broken off hairs as well.

How Can I Treat My Horse's Ringworm?

You vet will probably suggest the use of topical anti-fungal creams, shampoos and solutions. If the ringworm is severe enough, your horse may need oral medications.

Lime sulfur, iodine, or chlorhexidine shampoos work wonders in treating ringworm. For maximum effectiveness, be sure to apply these solutions all over your horse's body. You will most likely need to use these solutions daily, then weekly until the ringworm is gone and your vet has medically cleared your horse.

Keep your horse's skin dry and clean. Allow the ringworm infected lesions to air out and dry out.

Will My Horse's Ringworm Come Back?

In healthy horses, ringworm can go away on its own within 2 or 3 months. Sickly or malnourished horses may develop issues with recurring chronic ringworm. With these horses, you have to treat the underlying medical problem to prevent girth itch recurrence.

How Do I Prevent Ringworm from Affecting
My Other Animals?

Preventing ringworm in horses is a lot easier than dealing with ringworm after it's already occurred. If you have other horses, use separate grooming supplies. Disinfect combs, brushes, tack, and blankets after each use. Bleach water solutions (10:1) are awesome for killing fungal spores. Untreated fungal spores can survive on surfaces for a year or so!

Disinfect stalls of infected horses. Keep infected horses and uninfected horses separated until treatment is completed. All of the suggestions apply to your other non-equine pets as well.

How Do I Protect Myself from Ringworm?

The ability of equine ringworm to infect humans as well as animals makes it a zoonotic condition. To protect yourself, use the number one preventative solution all nurses know: wash your hands! Wash your hands after all contact with your horses (infected or not).

I know it's hard, but don't hug your infected horse. You may also want to use gloves after handling your horse's infected grooming tools.

* Reference: Kane, Ed. "Fungal diseases not just skin deep." DVM. 01 Aug. 2006: 4E.

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