Saturday, July 3, 2010

Ringworm - The Fungus Amongst Us

Bear with me a moment - suppose this was the headline from the morning paper:

"Sixteen otherwise totally healthy third graders were euthanized yesterday by a local hospital because they showed signs of a minor fungus infection that could potentially spread to other students."

What would the reaction be? Do you think the public would be a little upset? I would hope so. Now, I know I shouldn't compare animals to people - but I just had to this one time. This scenario is getting played out, over and over again in our nation's shelters when even a whiff of a ringworm spore floats by. It's ringworm. IT'S A FUNGUS!

Like Athlete's Foot. Have you ever heard of anybody being "euthanized" for athlete's foot? It's ludicrous. And yet shelter directors are STILL insisting that it is the kiss of death. Oh but sorry, in an effort to sound clinical - most shelters will use the term "depopulate" instead of "euthanize" when they talk about killing animals with ringworm. They can say the word so quickly and with such authority - "depopulate" - that it takes a moment for the true horror of the reality to set in. Have you ever heard of a nursing home that "depopulates" it's facility when it has an infectious disease?

There is only one reason why ringworm is the kiss of death in shelters. Because the shelters have let it become so. We need to let go of the stigma. Let's shout it from the rooftops. It's Ringworm. "I Have Ringworm. You Have Ringworm. We All Have Ringworm." ITS A FUNGUS!! We eat them in gravy. They live in our bathtubs and on our lawns. THE WORLD IS NOT COMING TO AN END!!

Sorry, but I had to do that - because it makes me crazy when shelters kill otherwise totally healthy animals for ringworm. Is it a pain in the butt? Yes. Does it cost time and money to treat? Yes. Is it contagious to other animals and humans? Yes. But is it highly treatable? Of course. It's a FUNGUS.

Fungi are best treated with bleach, heat, sunlight and dry air. (Sounds like my mother's cleaning regiment). Cluttered shelters with poor airflow and damp corners are going to be harder to clean. Maybe it's time to ask for donations to solve those problems, if that is the case in your shelter. Maybe it's time to have better cleaning protocols and staff training to prevent a ringworm outbreak in the first place.

I have had horses for 25 years. I am no stranger to ringworm. Horses get ringworm. Cows get ringworm. I've had ringworm. But you treat it and you get on with your life. I have never, ever, ever heard of a horse being "euthanized" for ringworm.

The stigma attached to ringworm will only stop when the shelters stop it. They need to educate the public, talk about it in the media, rally their volunteers and foster homes to help when there is an outbreak and then sit back and take a deep breath. But hiding behind closed doors and whispering is perpetuating the problem and increasing the stigma.

We have some of the nation's leading researchers on ringworm right here in Wisconsin. We have dairy farmers who deal with ringworm day in and day out. Do you think they "depopulate" their farms? I think not. (One farming article I read said - "just put some athlete's foot cream on the lesions")

When I was in about 3rd grade - I remember an outbreak of head lice in my school. I came home with the letter from the school nurse, my Mom picked around at my scalp and sure enough - there were those little critters having a good ole' time. She marched off to the drugstore for the shampoo, lathered me up according to the directions and that was that. While some mothers were wringing their hands in despair, wondering how this could happen in our neighborhood, and what was the school going to do about it - the practical mothers had already moved on and I was back playing at the playground. And as far as I can tell, I have no emotional scars from the big HEAD LICE scare of 1969.

Here are some recent shelter veterinary notes on the prevention and treatment of ringworm.

Dane County Humane Society, part of a Maddie's Fund project, has a ringworm treatment program highlighted on their website. So it can be done - and is being done, in Wisconsin.

The No Kill Advocacy Center has published a Lifesaving Matrix which clearly lists ringworm as a treatable condition.

So before you donate to a shelter - why don't you ask? "Do you treat for ringworm? Dogs? Cats? (Many shelters will treat dogs but not cats - since they make the argument that there are more available cats than dogs and that it is harder to treat a cat.) If you "euthanize" for ringworm, how are you implementing procedures NOW so that you don't have to in the future?" Ask the tough questions. It's your money and you have a right to know.

This blog was dedicated to an eight month old puppy who was killed for a minor ringworm infection at a local shelter. May he not have died in vain.


  1. Thank you Kathy for bringing this issue to light in our state. Next time I donate to an organization with a building, I'll ask about their ringworm treatment protocol. If an organization is killing animals for this treatable skin issue, I will assume that they prioritize convenience over life. And I will wonder if they will vigorously address the root cause of the infection: damp corners.

  2. I was a cat/kitten foster home for 6 years and saved over 50 cats through foster care, many of them sick adults. Unfortunately the last kitten the staff chose for me to take home was not screened for ringworm and I noticed it at home. Because I chose to treat it in my home vs. bringing the kitten back to be euthed, my home is now considered too high of risk (although I've cleaned according to all recommended guidelines and NONE of my people or pet family has broke with it in the months since) and I've essentially been kicked out of the foster program. It's heartbreaking. Shelters are so afraid of public perception but yet ... I don't recall EVER hearing a story of a member of the public crucifying a shelter for ringworm contracted. Chances are, their kid got it from the ball pit at Chuck E Cheese anyway!