Humans have enjoyed the companionship of their fourfooted friends for centuries. Pets bring unconditional love, but they are sometimes accompanied by zoonotic diseases. A number of scientific studies have found that direct contact with pets can put people at risk for the transmission of zoonotic diseases.

What is a zoonotic parasite?

A fungus is an organism that lives upon or within another living organism at whose expense it obtains nutrients and shelter. Zoonotic fungi can be transmitted from pets to humans and vice versa.

Ringworm

Ringworm is a zoonotic disease and is not actually a worm, but rather a fungus found in the soil that can infect the skin. Ringworms most commonly recognized in cats (often kittens), although dogs, rabbits and rodents can also become infected as well.

Who in the family is at risk for ringworm?

All family members who handle an infected animal are at risk. People who spend time cuddling and sleeping with infected pets are more at risk to become infected. Children run a higher risk, as well, of coming in contact with a zoonotic parasite due to their play habits and attraction to pets. Some people may be more susceptible than others to ringworm infection.

How is ringworm transmitted?

Ringworm is spread by direct contact with an infected animal by fungal spores in their hair or scales. Cats and kittens can spread the infection on themselves or between cats through grooming.

How do I know if my pet or I are infected with ringworm?

In animals, ringworm often appears as a crusty or scaly patch on the skin, and is sometimes accompanied with alopecia (hair loss). In people, the infection may appear on the skin as a ring with reddish borders (often on the face and hands). The infected areas may or may not itch and often have flaky edges. Infection can also appear on people’s scalp, beginning as a small raised area (papule). The hair then becomes brittle and the area increases in size, resulting in scaly, bald patches.

How is ringworm treated?

Ringworm requires medical attention. In pets, treatment may include bathing with special shampoo and applications of topical antifungal ointment to the infected area. For infections non-responsive to bathing and topicals, or in the case of widespread infection, oral medications may be needed. Humans usually respond to topical antifungal ointments.

What can you do to protect the entire family from ringworm?

Be aware of who your pets play with and discourage or prevent contact with ringworm-infected pets. In people, practice good hygiene for both your family and pet. Encourage family members to wash exposed areas of skin after petting and playing with pets. Seek medical attention from your veterinarian if you notice your pet is chewing at her skin or itching or you see any unusual hair
loss or skin concerns.