Ringworm which is otherwise known as dermatophytosis is a skin infection caused by the dermatophyte fungus. The dermatophyte fungus infects dead tissue that are present on the superficial layers of the skin and spreads quickly. The fungus spores then starts to eat away the hair, slowing causing bald patches that widens up.
The skin lesions starts small with small raised spots where hair loss has occurred. Then a thick dry scab starts forming on the bald patches. In many cases, only a couple of lesions appears but if left untreated the infection may become extensive and cover a large portion of the horse’s body. Note that ringworm is highly contagious and just one outbreak can affect a group of horses. Immunocompromised and young horses are especially at the risk of contracting or developing ringworm infection. It’s also possible for horse owners to contract ringworm from their horses. So ringworm isn’t an infection that horse owners can afford to joke with.
What makes ringworm effective at infecting a group of horse is the fact that a horse can be infected for up to three weeks before showing the clinical signs. Fungal spores can transmit through direct contact between horses, through clothing, grooming equipment and tack. Sadly, the fungal spores have a thick skin that is they cannot be ridden off very quickly and they have higher chances of survival especially in wooden stables.
Ringworm infection isn’t caused by a worm, as its name implies. Rather it is caused by a type of fungus and the microsporum and trichophyton species of fungi are to be blamed for the infection. These species are great are spreading fungus spores through horse to horse contact, fencing, stable doors, bedding, shared tack and grooming bushes.
As with most fungal diseases, young and old horses stand at the risk of developing ringworm considering that their immune system is less effective. When left untreated, ringworm will slowly damage the coat and then develop into a serious skin problem. In most cases, an affected horse will recover soon with good stable management and the right treatment.
Given that the disease is spread through infected tack, it isn’t uncommon to identify ringworm patches around the girth or saddle region, though it can appear on any part of the body.
HOW IS RINGWORM IN HORSES DIAGNOSED?
The lesions that appear on the skin often mimic that of folliculitis or rain Scald. If the lesions indicate ringworm, a veterinarian may start trial treatment. A sample of hair is removed from the lesions and the fungus is cultured in the laboratory. The downside with this is that it can take about two to three weeks to get the results of the culture and by how the horse should have been treated successfully. Thankfully, research has shown a new way to test for fungus DNA in hair samples and results will be obtained in just two days.
WHAT ARE THE CLINICAL SIGNS OF RINGWORM?
Ringworm patches can come in any shape and size and it starts with a raised tuft of hair on the horse’s body. The owner might see the spots appear in clusters with the affected area becoming scabby thus contributing to hair loss.
The horse may experience itching and soreness in the affected area and if left unattended to, the infection will spread to cover a large area.
The clinical signs of ringworm infection are quite confusing as they mimic the symptoms of other conditions. Your veterinarian may advise a skin scrape in other to get the right diagnosis.
Since the fungi responsible for the infection doesn’t grow rapidly, treatment mostly starts on a suspicion.
HOW CAN RINGWORM BE PREVENTED?
Considering that ringworm infection can easily spread between horses and owners, identifying the measures to put in place to prevent the infection is crucial. It is said that good stable management is the secret to prevent both ringworm infection and the spread.
The fungi that causes this contagious infection are resistant to cold, heat and other environmental factors. This shows that they can attach to grooming brushes, fencing, stables doors and tacks for weeks. They can even live on the horse’s skin and survive for three weeks without suspicious thereby having ample time to spread its spores.
As such, it’s important to disinfect a new stable before moving your horse. More importantly, avoid housing a new horse with the rest of the group. It is also a wise precaution to isolate the new horse for two or three weeks. Also, take caution when sharing your rugs or grooming equipment with horses that you do not know their history.
CONTROL MEASURES FOR RINGWORM INFECTION?
If you have suspicions that your horse has ringworm, it’s crucial that you carry out these control measures.
- Should you suspect that a horse has ringworm infection, keep the horse in a separate box. Keeping the horse in a separate box will reduce the chances of him infecting others. Make sure that the suspected horse isn’t in contact with other horses.
- Avoid clipping or grooming a suspected horse as doing that can spread spores.
- If you suspect that your horse has ringworm infection, do not ride the horse for a while. This helps to reduce the chances of you contracting the infection and also prevent the sores on the skin from rubbing against the tack and becoming worse.
- Avoid sharing rugs, grooming kit or tack.
- Invite your veterinarian to check any suspected horse
- Treat your horse immediately, the stable as well.
- Note that ringworm doesn’t cause death in horses however it does spread rapidly. It can spread between horses unless you take the necessary steps. The worst of all is the fungus spores can attach to woodwork for months thus contaminating fencing and stables. So it’s a wise precaution to disinfectant a horse’s stall that has been empty for a long time before you move a new horse in.
HOW IS RINGWORM IN HORSES TREATED?
At Happy Horse, we have effective treatment methods for ringworm infection. Our medicated shampoo which contains 2% Chlorhexidine Gluconate, is an effective treatment for combating ringworm in horses and other animals.