Ringworm Infections in Rats
Despite its name, ringworm is actually not a worm, but a fungal organism that infects the skin, feeding off of keratin, the material that makes up the skin, nails and hair of the body.
The set of fungi that cause ringworm in rats are from a class of fungi called deuteromycetes, with Tricopyton mentragrophytes being the primary fungus that is responsible for cases of ringworm infection in rats, though they can be infected by other fungal species as well. Ringworm is a zoonotic infection, meaning that the infected rat is contagious to other animals and to people. Unless care is taken in handling an infected rat, the ringworm infection can easily spread to humans and other household animals.
Symptoms and Types
Usually rats that are infected by the ringworm fungus never show symptoms apart from the skin lesions, which will vary from mild spots of hair loss to marked hair loss with thick scaly skin. Other symptoms may include:
- Reddened skin
- Irritated skin
- Flaky skin
Ringworm infection often spreads through direct contact with infected animals or humans, but it may also be spreadh via contaminated bedding, litter, and cage supplies.
Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam on your rat, taking into account the background history of symptoms and possible incidents that might have led to this condition, such as contact with other animals, or even with other people. A microscopic examination of skin scrapings taken from the infected area may also be done to confirm the visual diagnosis.
Although it is possible for the infection to clear up on its own, oral or general treatment of ringworm infection is very important for the prevention of a recurrence at a later time. Ringworm infection can be treated both with locally applied and oral fungicidal and antibiotic medications, both of which have the ability to kill fungi.
You will also be advised to use topical lotions and medicated shampoos for completely healing your rat.
Living and Management
Infected rats should be isolated from other rats in the group to prevent the spread of ringworm infection to healthy rats. You will also need to follow a regimen of hygiene and cleansing as per the advice of your veterinarian.
You can help to prevent spreading ringworm infection by maintaining good hygiene of your rat's cage and surrounding environment. If your pet rat has been infected with ringworm you will need to carefully disinfect the cage using a weak solution of bleach. Rather than rinsing the cage thoroughly, air it well afterwards and completely change the flooring and bedding of the cage.
Because this infection is spread by direct contact with the fungal organism that causes ringworm, it is important to be mindful of hygiene when you have had contact with other rats. This is one among many diseases that can be spread to rats by way of human contact, so it is essential that you always wash your hands and clothing thoroughly after handling other rats, before handling your own again.