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Shelter Medicine: The Most Persistent Fungus Among Us

Ringworm is one of the easiest zoonotic diseases to contract—and, in the shelter environment, one of the hardest to get rid of. Here’s a primer on causes, symptoms, and effective controls

Ringworm is one of the easiest zoonotic diseases to contract—and, in the shelter environment, one of the hardest to get rid of. Here’s a primer on causes, symptoms, and effective controls

Humid environments and excessive bathing can predispose cats to ringworm infection. DREAMSTIME.COM/DAVID GILDER
Ringworm, or dermatophytosis, is one of the most common infectious skin diseases of young and long-haired cats. Although it’s not fatal and can be managed in a home setting, its long-term survival skills, contagiousness, and tendency to evade diagnosis make it exasperating for shelters.

Despite its name, ringworm is caused by a fungus, not a worm. Although three types of fungi can cause ringworm in dogs and cats, Microsporum canis, or M. canis, is responsible for 98 percent of cat cases and 70 percent of dog cases. This highly contagious fungus lives in the superficial layers of skin, hair, and claws of infected animals. The fungus is not present normally in the skin, and it should always be considered a cause of disease when found in conjunction with clinical lesions. Aside from humans, rabbits and guinea pigs are among the other species M. canis readily infects. It doesn’t infect dogs nearly as often as cats, who contract the majority of cases encountered in shelters.

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