Ringworm is not actually a worm but a fungal skin infection caused by several different species of fungi, some of which can also affect humans.
The first thing you may notice are small raised spots on the horse’s skin which gradually shed their hair. The area then becomes scabby and scurfy, and the horse may scratch himself to relieve the itchiness caused. These lesions can occur anywhere on the horse’s body including on his face.
Ringworm is highly contagious and can be spread by grooming, on tack and rugs, and by direct contact with an infected animal. Unfortunately, the fungi that cause the condition are pretty hardy and can lie dormant in wooden structures like fences and ceiling beams for long periods before dropping onto a horse and setting up an infection. Once on the horse’s skin, the fungi can show no outward signs for up to three weeks during which time many horses can become infected.
On the plus side, infection does produce a long-lasting immunity.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Ringworm can be confused with other skin conditions like rain-scald. Your vet will take a skin scraping to confirm the diagnosis. It’s sometimes possible to grow the fungi in a lab to determine the particular species involved which can make treatment more effective.
If left untreated, ringworm can actually sort itself out over a few months but it’s preferable to have the condition dealt immediately with to prevent it spreading. In some countries horses infected with ringworm are prohibited from entering race tracks or competition centers, and an outbreak on a racing yard can be catastrophic.
The most common form of treatment for ringworm is by washing the infected area with an anti-fungal solution. Unfortunately, the solutions available are not species-specific and you might have to try several different preparations until you find the right one for your horse’s particular case. It’s usually necessary for two or more applications to be administered over a week or so.
Before the treatment can be applied, it’s necessary to remove all scabbing, dead skin and other debris by gently rubbing it away with a rough sponge. If not, the fungi will remain protected from the treatment.
Once treatment has been completed the area should appear healthy and bare although new hair will grow back quickly.
If your horse is diagnosed with ringworm, you’ll have to disinfect and treat all his tack, rugs, and grooming tools. Bedding will need to be removed and burned, and his stable disinfected including all the woodwork in case any fungal spores remain.
New horses on the yard should be kept in quarantine for at least two weeks and closely monitored for ringworm and other infections like coughs.
Ringworm is not dangerous to horses or humans; it’s more of an uncomfortable nuisance. If you think your horse might be showing signs of ringworm, you must isolate him from other horses and summon veterinary assistance. If you look after several horses, there’s a strong possibility you might have transferred fungal spores between them, and you must be vigilant in case further cases emerge.
Image source: The Horse
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