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Monday, June 7, 2010

Ringworm in a shelter

While the dust has already settled somewhat on this matter, I would like to dig it up and comment on it. In early May last month, an Ontario SPCA shelter, north of Toronto, had to deal with an outbreak of dermatophytosis, or ringworm, affecting about 350 animals. The original decision to euthanize all animals in the shelter was amended to have many of these animals taken in by local clinics to have them treated (thankfully).
Ringworm is a fungal disease of dogs, cats, and many other mammals, which can be transmitted to humans coming in close contact with infected animals. There are no worms in ringworm, named for a classic round lesion in people with a raised perimeter, giving the appearance of a worm under the skin. No worms in ringworm. The disease is not fatal but can cause severe hair loss and skin disease that can often look horrific. But it's not fatal.
The outbreak was blamed on human error, which lead to the dismissal of a manager there.

Here's my take: ringworm can look like a great number of other skin disease: scabies, a severe bacterial or viral skin infection, allergic skin diseases, endocrine diseases (such as hypothyroid or steroid dermatopathy), paraneoplastic syndromes, etc, etc, etc. In addition, cats and dogs can be asymptomatic carriers of ringworm, posing a risk to other animals and humans handling them. It is my suspicion (though I don't know for certain) that asymptomatic cats and dogs entering the shelter are not tested for ringworm, whose diagnostic tests requiring typically 2-3 weeks. Remember, this is a shelter, filled with rescued animals, not a single animal living the "good life," in some downtown loft. The responsibility of the OSPCA workers is to take in animals and treat them, if possible. There is no guarantee that any animal entering the OSPCA will be successfully treated, especially if it has a disease (even a curable one) requiring a lengthy and impracticable treatment, for a shelter.
While the decision to euthanize many animals sparked outrage and condemnation, in no way should the OSPCA employees be vilified for, or charged with, cruelty to animals. Shelter medicine deals with a population, not the individual animal. As sad as it is to put a dog or cat down because of ringworm, the greater picture dictates that the culling of some animals will allow a more expeditious return to a normal shelter environment, allowing anew the entry and treatment of pets requiring the OSPCA's services.

Classic lesion in a person: not hard to recognize.

Ringworm in a cat: not so classic.

What I have a huge problem with: the nutjobs who staged protests against the OSPCA, dressing their dogs up in black, who brought their children to a mock funeral (abounding with small coffins!) for the animals euthanized. This isn't normal human behaviour.


GoLightly said...

Thank you, Doc.
Sadly, voices of reason aren't heard, amid the cacophony of irresponsible reporting.
John Tory did the OSPCA a terrible disservice.

To hear that the protesters were calling the OSPCA workers "murderers" was really, truly appalling.
Funny how the protesters didn't care about the animals, until it was time to euth.

Anonymous said...

I have been involved in cat rescue as a volunteer for many years (but I've never worked or volunteered in a shelter environment). I've rescued cats from a shelter who had ringworm. There is a definite side to me that is a bleeding heart, but there is another side that knows when you have a cat with ringworm you have a cat that no one wants to foster or adopt for a long time. I've seen it take several months - months! - to clear up ringworm only to have it return. Yes, there are some exceptional people who will accept that, but it's pretty hard to find them. The majority of foster parents and adopters want a healthy animal, not one who is going to leave ugly itchy lesions on them, their children, other pets and anyone else who touches them.

While I hate the choice to euthanize I do understand it. I would challenge the people who protested to bring a few of those cats home and nurse them back to health. Maybe if they saw how long it can take and how frustrating it is, they would realize that a shelter FULL of ringworm is no picnic. And adding to the dilemma is the fact that it's kitten season, and with kittens everywhere the adults are much slower to be adopted than at other times of year. While the shelter is housing innumerable unadoptable cats being treated for ringworm, many adoptable kittens will be euthanized for lack of space. There are no winners in this situation. I don't like it, but I do understand it.

As is typical, the media fed the flames and got the public riled up... A public that by and large has no idea what it is like to rescue animals and deal with the fallout. The so-called rescuers who made such a fuss have their hands eternally full with animals that take too long to find homes for. People have to come to understand that as hard as we all try, we cannot save them all. As sad as it is that those ringworm animals were euthanized, it allowed many more to be rescued once the facility was sanitized.

Anonymous said...

Good to hear from you. Been waiting
I learned -no worm in ringworm- (!)
guess i could have googled it- but waited for you.
The media have such a hold on peoples ears .
I've nursed various skin problems on my cat- it takes such patience, time, (there is a cost factor too-not insignificant) for one cat.
have also handled a wicked case of puppy strangles in one pup for 8 months-THAT WAS EXHAUSTING for me-however I did a really,really good job- and than was only ONE dog. ONE cat at a time.
Take the media away and let people sit down and work stuff out with reason. A -let's say- a nice circle of sharing ideas- can we still do that as adults?
Children could do it better.
Oh, isn't that what is supposed to happen with the G20 in Toronto?
again- MEDIA is creating a "big mess" (sorry i got carried away again!)

OSPCA Truth said...

Please do your own research and don't just buy into the image of what the OSPCA wants to portray. The ringworm issue was very badly handled by the OSPCA and it is just a symptom of much more serious problems.

TorontoVet said...

The OSPCA has human beings working for it, and humans drop the ball. They should be held accountable, and most certainly barring any criminal prosecution. This does not condone the preposterous behaviour of some people reacting to what occurred.

TorontoVet said...

In addition, any group that 1) makes any connection between the terrorist act of 9/11, as if the OSCPA are a bunch of terrorists, and 2) makes this statement: "A total of 350 animals were to be slaughtered, because of a ringworm infestation," using the word "slaughtered" as if they were killed with machines and knives in an abattoir, has LOST ALL CREDIBILITY.
Thanks for showing your true colours.

GoLightly said...

Did you see the so-called "Truth" facebook page, Doc?

Talk scientifically, and they stick their fingers in their ears and go Lalalalalalalalalalaaaaaa...

No knowledge of the science behind diseases is a very, very scary thing...

I was there. I've been back there.

OSPCA still has people demonstrating, and making death threats.

The most dangerous are always the most uninformed.

Anonymous said...


love your blog.
could you please do a post about warts, lumps and bumps? i currently have a middle aged poodle mix with what appears to be a wart on his lip. am looking for azithromycin therapy. lots of stuff online about the it legit? would it hurt to try?

thank you in advance & keep blogging ;)

TorontoVet said...

Yup, it would hurt to try. Azithromycin is an antibiotic and has no place in the treatment of these lumps, bumps, and warts.
If it is truly a wart or papilloma, it will disappear on it own, however my suspicion is that this growth may require surgical excision to get rid of it. Go see a vet and get your answer!

OSPCA Truth said...

Don't paint everyone with the same brush because a few people do stupid things. And don't be so condescending as to ignore the reality that some of us are trying to make people aware of. We are NOT anti-OSPCA, no matter what you think. We WANT the OSPCA to be a strong and open organization. Read the latest Press Release from them and please explain the discrepancy of how so many animals that were to be euthanized due to a virulent strain of ringworm now have no evidence of ringworm after lime-sulfur dips. At some point in time, people will realize that the whole truth is NOT being told.

Anonymous said...

hi there, and i hope you are feeling better :)

update on my boy's papilloma...went to our vet and we tried azithromycin liquid for 2 weeks. a week after the end of treatment the wart which was the size of a small olive and a healthy pink colour turned black - then i wiped most of it away. the remaining bit - about the size of a tic tac is ready to come off completely. i learned of the treatment here:

he seemed to have no side effects. going to see our vet later this week for follow up.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Our "humane society" here in New Iberia LA euthanized over 100 cats when a new manager came in. Didn't even say a word until employees were letting it leak. Supposed "distemper" which no one was tested for and huge outbreak of RINGWORM. I call it laziness to handle the situation and she should be terminated. This happened within the last month.