As many 4-H and FFA exhibitors have experienced, nothing puts a damper on a livestock project like a crusty patch of ringworm. While nearly impossible to completely eliminate, there are some effective methods of prevention and treatment. Larry Judge, professional services veterinarian, ANIMART, Inc., offers his advice on how to deal with this unsightly and contagious skin disease.
Contrary to the name, there is no actual worm associated with ringworm. It is actually a fungus from the same family as athlete’s foot. Spores thrive on surfaces within an animal’s environment, such as interior walls, gates and feeding areas. Wood provides a preferred habitat, as the spores can live within the cracks for long periods of time. Cattle that are confined or housed indoors for periods of time are more likely to break with ringworm than those that spend their days outdoors and in the sunshine.
According to Judge, the tell-tale clinical signs of ringworm are the circular, crusty hairless patches. While the head and neck are the most common places to find it, ringworm may be on other parts of the animal’s body as well. In most cases, the infected animal does not suffer economic losses in growth or gains related to the fungus; however, animals destined for shows and sales may be denied participation if the infection is deemed active and contagious.
Fairs and exhibitions can be a spreading point for ringworm, even when there are no visible signs on animals. The fungal spores may be hanging around on surfaces that animals rub against or in brushes and equipment.
“Rule number one, don’t share equipment with other exhibitors,” advises Judge. “If you start borrowing brushes, blankets or towels, you will get it.”
If sharing equipment cannot be avoided, soaking it in a disinfectant prior to use will kill the spores pretty effectively. He recommends a simple bleach solution, which also can be used to clean surfaces of areas where livestock are housed and handled at home.
“Bleach is cheap and easy,” he adds. “Dilute one part bleach to 10 parts water.”
He also suggests that any animal that returns home after a show or fair be bathed with an anti-fungal shampoo, whether or not it was exposed to other animals with clinical ringworm.
“You don’t want to contaminate your facilities,” he goes on. “Any kind of disinfectant type of shampoo will do a reasonably good job.”
If you notice ringworm lesions on animals, Judge says there are two keys to treatment: do it often and stay after it. Before applying a disinfecting treatment to kill the fungus, scratch away the crusty surface to allow for direct contact. While there are really no labeled ringworm treatments on the market for livestock, some have found success using household and non-prescription products. Bleach, iodine or Nolvasan will do the trick. Captan, an anti-fungal horticulture product, also may be used; however, he suggests using an athlete’s foot cream for areas near the eyes where harsher treatments may cause irritation. The treatment of choice should be administered daily until the hair is growing back sufficiently. If stopped early, there is risk that the infection will flare up again.
“If you do these things, the disinfectant will probably kill the fungus,” he says. “Then, it is just a matter of recovering and allowing the hair to grow back.”
Judge also has seen some producers have success with sodium iodide when given intravenous by a veterinarian.
Ringworm from cattle can spread directly to humans. People treating or working around livestock with ringworm should wear gloves, use a disinfectant hand wash and wash their clothes promptly, with bleach if possible.
“Most people who have been around cattle will tell you that they have had ringworm at some point, but with ongoing exposure, they build immunity,” says Judge. “People who have never been around it pick it up more readily.”
Animals at greatest risk of picking up ringworm are the young and those with compromised immune systems, but even healthy livestock can get it. Good nutrition and a strong immune system are keys to a quick recovery.