If you suspect that your horse has ringworm, then the first thing you should do is contact your veterinarian as quickly as you can. This fungi creates a sore that looks like a ring in the shape of a worm, which is why it's been given this name. It's not actually a worm. Your veterinarian will determine if clinical treatment or home care will be your best option to treat this infection.
The issue with ringworm is that it can very quickly spread to other parts of the horse's body. Spots are created that become crumbly, scruffy, thick, and dry. Ringworm can also be quite itchy, which encourages it to spread. Most infections tend to create 1-2 lesions at first, but if ringworm is left untreated, it will become an extensive health issue that can affect an entire herd of horses in a very short amount of time.
How Does a Ringworm Infection Occur?
Because ringworm is caused by a fungus, it can be spread through a number of different ways. The most common method of transmission tends to be direct contact between horses, but any infestation of the fungi creates the risk of infection. Spores can be on clothing, tack, grooming equipment, and even fence railings. You can also pick up a ringworm infection when riding in wooded areas, tall grassy fields, and other natural areas.
Ringworm can stay on the skin for up to 21 days before any of the clinical signs of an infection begin to appear. Younger horses tend to be more affected by ringworm than older horses, especially those who have had a previous ringworm infection. It is believed that one exposure can create a long-lasting immunity to the fungi involved.
How To Treat Ringworm in Horses At Home
The first thing you must do is remove the main food source of the fungus that causes a ringworm infection. It feeds off of a protein called “keratin,” which is found in the outer skin cells and the hair of the horse. You'll want to clip away all the hair from the affected area, being careful not to contact the skin whenever possible to avoid spreading the infection. Use electric clippers. A #40 blade is recommended. Then extend the shaved area to at least 0.5 inches away from the lesion to avoid having it continue to grow.
Once you've shaved down each lesion so that it is bare skin, you'll want to begin spot-bathing each affected area. This will help to begin killing the fungus. Wet each shaved area with a sponge first. Then apply an antiseptic which has anti-fungal qualities. Betadine and Novalsan are common options, but your veterinarian may recommend something specific for your horse. These antiseptics are given in a scrub form, so lather up the area and then allow it to sit for 10-15 minutes.
Then rinse the area thoroughly with water. Once the horse has been completely rinsed of the antiseptic lather, mix 2 tablespoons into 1 quart of fresh water and apply this solution to the affected areas. This will help to remove the soap and make the skin of the horse more acidic, which prevents the fungi from spreading. Apply this mixture with a spray bottle for best results, then towel dry the area the best that you can.
What If the Ringworm Infection Is Stubborn?
Some ringworm infections never really seem to go away. This typically happens because a few of the spores will survive the antiseptic treatments and the vinegar washes, so it spreads to new areas of the horse's body. You can prevent this from happening by applying an anti-fungal dressing to the affected areas.
Betadine ointments are available that can be applied to the dressing, but something as simple as over-the-counter athlete's foot or jock itch ointments will also do the trick. Apply the dressing to the affected areas at least once per day over the course of 7 days. If you see the areas beginning to shrink, then you can reduce the anti-fungal dressings to 2-3 times per week until they disappear. If they appear to be the same or growing, repeat for another week.
Why Is My Home Treatment Effort Failing?
The problem with ringworm is that it thrives best in environments that are damp, dark, and cold. This is because it's a fungus. When a horse has a winter coat that is wet and dirty, then you're creating the perfect conditions to let this infection thrive. Even if you've trimmed away the hair and are apply direct anti-fungal dressings, there can be hidden spores growing in other areas of the fur.
For this reason, the two best things you can give your horse are a dry environment and exposure to sunlight. The dry environment eliminates the moisture the ringworm needs to grow and the sunlight contains UV light that helps to kill off the fungus.
Now we all know there are horses which refuses to stay clean and dry. This is to be expected. It just means you'll need to be proactive with your grooming habits. You'll also need to clean out your grooming tools after every session to prevent a spread of the fungus. Keep the stable as clean and dry as possible and let your horse have a fun day in the sun in a dry paddock. Avoid using blankets if you can or use a dedicated dry garment if it is too cold for the horse outside.
It's also important to take care of yourself after you've finished treating your horse with ringworm. Not only can you spread it to other horses, but you can also be infected by this fungus.
How To Protect Yourself From Ringworm Infection
Ringworm is highly contagious. Without proper precautions, it can spread to other horses, other animals, and to your skin. The first think you'll want to do is discard any of the clipped hair you've had to remove and whatever grooming debris you have into a sealed plastic garbage bag. Wear gloves if you can during this process and then throw the gloves away with the debris.
The next step is to completely disinfect the grooming equipment. Your best option is to sanitize the equipment in boiling water for 10-15 minutes. That isn't always an option, however, so thoroughly cleaning the equipment with a strong disinfectant concentrate will also work. Rinse off the equipment if you use the disinfectant and then allow the items to air dry – preferably in sunshine.
Now you're ready to take care of yourself. Take off your clothes in an isolated area. If you can, throw them directly into a washing machine with a hot water setting. Otherwise bag up your clothes like you did the grooming debris and clipped hair in a knotted plastic bag until you can wash your clothing. You'll then need to bathe and shampoo yourself thoroughly, paying special attention to any parts of the body that may have come into contact with the animal.
Any pets you or the horse may have come into contact with during the treatment process will also need to be thoroughly bathed to help prevent an unintentional spreading of the fungus. Then monitor yourself any anyone or any other animal involved for the next 3 weeks for signs of an infection.
Now You Just Need To Evaluate the Progress of Your Horse
Home treatments that get rid of ringworm in horses are generally effective when these steps are followed. There is no guarantee that your home treatment will work, however, because some fungi strains can be highly resistant to these treatment methods. It may also be an indication that your horse has an underlying health problem that is reducing its immunities and a full veterinarian evaluation may be necessary.
Extensive infections that involve more than 2-3 lesions caused by ringworm should generally be cared for under veterinary supervision. This is up to your local vet, however, so follow any instructions you are given to care for your horse.
Some fungal infections can be quite deep. They may require stronger anti-fungal agents or even oral medications in order to resolve. Your veterinarian will advise you in this circumstance.
Otherwise your job is to check for new lesions on the horse at least once per week. Make sure to examine any existing lesions to determine if they are either shrinking or growing. Check to see if there is new hair growing in the center of the lesion – this is an indication that it is healing as well. If you see no improvement over any 14 consecutive day period, then it is time to contact your veterinarian for an evaluate.
Virtually every horse who experiences a ringworm infection will recover quickly from it. Most cases will improve quickly when treatments are applied and good hygiene practices used. The prognosis is considered to be excellent, especially when you have the information you need to get rid of ringworm in horses. Follow these steps and your vet's instructions and you should be able to resolve this issue at home.