Ringworm in Horses

Written by karen s. johnson | 13/05/2017
Ringworm in Horses
Ringworm is treatable but must be treated quickly and carefully to prevent spreading. (horse image by Andytani from Fotolia.com)

If you see crusty, coin-sized patches of skin on your horse, it could be ringworm. Despite its name, it has nothing to do with worms, but it can spread easily and can irritate you and your horse. Ringworm is treatable but you have to be diligent and act quickly (See References 1 and 2).


Ringworm in Horses
Your veterinarian can diagnose ringworm by scraping cells and examining them under a microscope, but he will likely be able to tell by seeing them and begin treatment immediately. (microscope image by Fotocie from Fotolia.com)

Ringworm is caused by fungi that love dead skin and hair, known as dermatophytes. You will notice dry, crusty, fairly round spots on your horse, that may be clustered together (References 1 and 2). Your vet can confirm that it is ringworm by scraping the skin cells and examining them under a microscope, but he may start you on a course of treatment before he has the results (Reference 3).


Ringworm in Horses
Topical applications are easy to get and effective against ringworm. (tube toothpaste image by Leonid Nyshko from Fotolia.com)

Several easy-to-use products are readily available without a veterinarian prescription, such as iodine shampoos or over-the-counter fungal treatments for human conditions such as athlete's foot. Your veterinarian may recommend a combination, and have you clean and scrub the affected area with a shampoo or wash, and then apply a topical anti-fungal cream or powder after the lesions dry (References 1 and 3). When you wash and scrub the patchy spots, remove the scabs before treating so that the topical application can get directly to the fungi (Reference 3).


Ringworm in Horses
Horses with ringworm should be separated from other horses. (horse in stall image by BONNIE C. MARQUETTE from Fotolia.com)

There is no need to panic if you suspect your horse has ringworm, but there are a few important things to keep in mind. First, by the time you see any indication of ringworm it can already have spread to other surfaces, including fences, other horses, your tack and you (Reference 3). Second, if left untreated, it can spread quickly on your horse, becoming a major source of irritation and discomfort for him. It can also spread to other horses and animals, and to you, so make sure you keep your horse in a separate stall or pen away from other horses (References 1 and 3).

Containment and Prevention

Ringworm in Horses
Disinfecting your horse's living quarters and property is an important part of ringworm treatment. (wash room blues image by bgroovy2 from Fotolia.com)

The fungi that cause ringworm can live on surfaces for long periods, so disinfecting your horse's environment as much as possible is important to contain and eradicate ringworm. Also clean halters, tack, and any blankets or other items your horse wore. Ringworm is characterised as zoophilic, meaning it can spread from animals to humans, so don't forget to wear disposable gloves when treating your horse or when handling his items.


Ringworm in Horses
A healthy immune system may prevent a ringworm infection. (Horse image by Dusi from Fotolia.com)

Not all healthy horses exposed to ringworm will get an infection, and once your horse has ringworm he often will build an immunity to it that can last for years. This means that younger horses are generally more susceptible than older ones who may have already been exposed, but older horses or those with compromised immune systems can also be affected more easily.

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