Ringworm: Symptoms, Prognosis & Cure

Ringworm is a fungal condition that spreads easily. But can chinchillas get it, and if so, how do you treat it? Can you use antifungal medication?

New owner, don't know where to start? Or do you need a handy chinchilla reference guide? Check out our Chinchilla Care 101 eBook, or get what you need from our online store!

Ringworm is a fungal condition that spreads easily. But can chinchillas get it, and if so, how do you treat it? Can you use antifungal medication?

Can chinchillas get ringworm? They can, because fungus can affect their skin like it does ours. Ringworm causes dry and flaky skin, plus small bald patches. While not fatal, the condition is uncomfortable, so should be treated with topical or oral medication. You also have to deep-clean your chinchilla’s cage regularly to prevent re-infection, and keep your chin ‘quarantined‘ away from its cage mates until the condition clears.

The guide below first describes exactly what ringworm is, and how your chinchilla can catch fungal infections like these. We’ll also look at the symptoms ringworm causes like flaky skin and bald patches, and finally cover how to treat ringworm in chinchillas—and get rid of it for good.

What Is Ringworm? (Chinchilla Fungal Fur Infection)

Image courtesy of Brenda’s Cherished Chinchillas.

Ringworm is a kind of fungal infection, specifically of the skin. You might also know it by the names of dermatophytosis, dermatophyte infection, tinea, or just as a generic fungal infection of the skin.

Ringworm causes a lumpy red rash that often appears in a ring shape, hence the name. Although it’s called ringworm, it’s not actually caused by a worm, but by a kind of fungus that eats into the skin. There are several species of fungus that cause ringworm, including Trichphyton, Microsporum and Epidermophyton. These kinds of fungus are originally caught from touching unclean soil, but can then be spread from person to person or animal to animal.

These are the same fungi that cause conditions like athlete’s foot, yeast infections and jock itch.

Can Chinchillas Get Ringworm?

Chinchilla ringworm is the same kind of ringworm you can get. It most commonly affects the skin of the face, ears, legs and genitals as this is where the fur is thinnest. While thick fur doesn’t stop the fungus completely, it does provide something of a physical barrier, so the ringworm will take hold in these three places first.

It’s also possible for chinchillas to carry ringworm without showing any symptoms of it. This can happen when the chinchilla has fungal spores in its fur. These spores may not reach the skin to form an infection, but can be passed on to you, and start an infection on your skin instead.

What Causes Ringworm?

Ringworm can be spread in lots of different ways. There are also certain environmental conditions that make it more likely to spread. It can spread through:

  • Contact with you if you have ringworm. A person can pass ringworm to another person, or to a pet.
  • Contact with contaminated objects. The fungus could be present in bedding, in fleece, or throughout your chinchilla’s cage. Or, if an infected chinchilla bathed in the same dust as another chinchilla, it can spread that way.
  • Also: if your chinchilla’s fur is wet, that makes ringworm worse. Fungus spreads between hosts more easily, and spreads around the skin more quickly, in the presence of water.
  • Also: dirty fur makes it easier for fungus to spread. Keeping the fur clean of grease through regular dust baths stops fungus building up and spreading.

It’s also possible for a chinchilla to catch a fungal infection from the hay or pellets it eats. That’s because these fungi may be present in the soil that the grasses were grown in, or may have infected the hay during storage.

Generally speaking, the more neglected a chinchilla is, the more likely it is to catch something like ringworm. Frequent vet’s visits can also pick up on problems like these before they become too serious.

Can You Catch Ringworm From a Chinchilla?

The fungus that causes ringworm in chinchillas is the same as the fungus that causes ringworm in people. As such, if you have direct contact with the fungus in your pet’s fur and on its skin, then you can catch ringworm from it. It’s also possible for your chinchilla to catch ringworm from you.

What Are The Symptoms of Ringworm?

Ringworm causes distinctive symptoms that you can identify on your own, provided you learn more about them.

Dry and Flaky Skin

Dry and flaky skin is the first thing you’ll notice in ringworm. This occurs because the fungus eats into and damages the skin. You might notice:

  • Loose flakes in your chinchilla’s fur
  • Flakes of skin on the floor of your chinchilla’s cage
  • Dry skin on any bald patches your chinchilla has

This dry skin will appear in one place at first, e.g. on the face. But it can spread to other areas, too, and/or get bigger.

Bald Patches & General Hair Loss

Ringworm causes bald patches because it damages the skin. It begins as a small pimple-sized spot that slowly expands outwards. As it expands, it eats into the fibers of each hair and infiltrates the follicles they spring from. This dual action makes hairs brittle and stops new ones from growing, at least as easily.

As such, over time, a bald patch appears where the ringworm infection is. You may also notice more hairs on the floor of your chinchilla’s cage than usual. Bear in mind, though, that chinchillas do shed and can lose fur through fur slip too, so loose hairs or small bald patches aren’t definitive proof of ringworm.

Chinchilla Skin Scabs

Infected skin may scab over. That’s because your chinchilla will scratch at the infected area, causing small wounds that will eventually form scabs.

Chinchilla Skin Problems That Look Like Ringworm

Ringworm isn’t the only condition that can cause these problems. Bacterial infection can, too.

Bacteria can get into wounds or linings/membranes and infect them (which is what pink eye is). Unfortunately, this can look similar to ringworm: it causes damaged skin, and may appear as a large infected spot. You will also notice additional symptoms like pus and extra swelling.

The problem is that if you misdiagnose the condition, you will treat it wrong. Bacterial infections require antibiotics, while fungal infections require antifungal medications. If you treat a bacterial infection with antifungal medication, nothing will happen, and the same applies in reverse. That’s why you need a concrete diagnosis made by a vet.

How Bad Is Ringworm in Chinchillas?

Dust baths with flower of sulfur can help.

Ringworm isn’t a fatal condition. But it can contribute to overall poor health.

It’s nevertheless vital that you treat ringworm as soon as possible. Even if your pet won’t pass away from a fungal infection, it is still uncomfortable and itchy, just like ringworm is for people. And if you’re not careful, you’ll catch it too, which is reason enough to treat it in itself!

How Is Ringworm Diagnosed in Chinchillas?

Through looking for the symptoms of ringworm above, you can make a likely diagnosis of ringworm in your chinchilla. But if you want to be sure, you have to take your chinchilla to a vet. We recommend doing this rather than relying solely on your own judgment, as if the condition is something other than ringworm, ringworm treatment won’t fix it.

To make a definitive diagnosis, the vet will swab the affected area and make a culture. This culture will tell the vet exactly what the problem is: ringworm, another kind of fungus, or something else entirely. A veterinary laboratory could also run a DNA test on skin or hair to identify ringworm.

There’s also a test using something called Wood’s lamp. This is a special lamp that makes certain fungi glow in the dark. However, it can’t discover every kind of fungal infection, so your chin could still have one even if this test comes back clear.

Once diagnosed, there is a chinchilla fungus cure. But it’s not simple or straightforward.

Eight Ways to Cure Ringworm in Chinchillas

Getting rid of ringworm for good is a long process. The first step is to ensure that the chinchilla’s cage is as clean as clean can be. If you don’t, then stray hairs or skin flakes carrying the fungus will still be present even once the condition on your chin’s skin is completely cleared up.

The second step is to clean your chinchilla’s fur thoroughly to get rid of loose hairs and fungal spores. Only then can you move on to using vet-prescribed medication. But even besides that, there’s more you need to do. Get prepared, because there’s lots of work to do!

1) Preparation

If you want to know how to help a chinchilla with ringworm, the first thing you need to do is prepare. Separate the infected chinchilla from its cage mate, if it has one. This will prevent the infection from spreading if it hasn’t already. Keep the chinchilla in its own cage, ideally in a separate room, as the spores can spread through the air.

You should also check your own skin for ringworm. Imagine if you spent all your time cleaning your pet’s cage, applying the medication and taking your pet to the vet for checkups if you caught ringworm and even gave it back to your chinchilla! Check for classic signs like red, itchy lumps that look like bites and expand over time.

2) Cage Clean-Up

The first step is to clean your chinchilla’s cage thoroughly. This process is called ‘deep-cleaning‘, and you’ll need to do it several times while your chinchilla is getting better. Here’s a brief run-down of what you’ll have to do:

  1. Put your chinchilla somewhere it will be safe for half an hour. In its play pen is fine. Ideally, get a friend or family member to watch over it while you’re busy.
  2. Remove everything from your chinchilla’s cage. That includes the hide, platforms, bedding and so on. The cage should be completely bare when you’re finished.
  3. Wash every cage accessory you want to keep. Run it under hot water and wash it with soap as if you’re washing a dish.
  4. Throw away any wooden toys or cage accessories. Fungal spores aren’t easily cleaned from wood, so it would be a mistake to keep these.
  5. Wipe the cage down to get rid of loose hairs, skin flakes, etc.
  6. Spray the cage or wipe it with something anti-fungal. Bleach works fine. There are many anti-fungal sprays and anti-fungal wipes on the market; the ‘active ingredient’ is typically regular old bleach.
  7. Replace everything in the cage once it’s dried.

If you don’t do this, then even if the medication works, your chinchilla will get re-infected. You’d be wasting your own time, and the vet will tell you the same.

3) Clip Your Chinchilla’s Fur

Next you can begin tackling the root cause of the problem: the fungal infection in your chinchilla’s fur and skin. A simple first step is to clip the fur around the infected area.

This will achieve several things. First, it will mean there’s less fungus for you to wash and treat. Second, it will make the area easier to clean and treat later on (as you’ll probably need to apply topical ointment to it).

To clip the fur, all you’ll need is a clean pair of scissors. Don’t tug hard at the fur, and don’t feel the need to clip all the way down to the skin. Only clip around the infected area rather than your chinchilla’s whole body. And if your chinchilla squirms as you hold it to the point that you can’t safely trim its fur, don’t bother.

Don’t worry about your chinchilla’s fur. It will grow back gradually. Right now, your pet’s health is more important than the way it looks.

4) Should You Bathe Your Chinchilla in Water?

Water helps fungus spread—but anti-fungal shampoo can help. So, what should you do?

Bathing chinchillas in water is a sore spot for some owners. Some think you never should, while others say that there are select circumstances in which you should. We fall in the latter camp, as so long as you do it right, it’s perfectly safe—and more effective than using dust.

Whether you should do this isn’t clear. On the one hand, water helps the fungus spread. On the other hand, anti-fungal shampoo can be an effective treatment provided you use one your vet recommends. If you are going to bathe your chinchilla in water, follow these guidelines.

  1. Wear gloves to clean your chinchilla. You can catch ringworm, too.
  2. The water can’t be too hot or too cold. Chinchillas overheat quickly in warm water, while they lose heat quickly if they can’t get dry. The water should be 70 degrees Fahrenheit or 21 degrees Centigrade maximum.
  3. Your chinchilla can’t be in the water too long. If it is, the water will get cold, and your chin will get hypothermia.
  4. Use anti-fungal shampoo, but rinse it out quickly, and avoid getting it on your chinchilla’s face or in its eyes.
  5. Use a towel to rub your chinchilla dry afterwards. This may take a while, but continue until your pet is as dry as you can get it.
  6. Blow dry your chinchilla on a cool setting. Never use a hot setting, as this will make your chinchilla overheat.
  7. Once your chin is almost dry, give it a regular dust bath. If you normally keep the dust to reuse it, don’t—it will contain ringworm spores.

Once your chin is as clean as you can get it, and your chin’s cage is as clean as you can get it, you can put your pet back in its home. Wash your hands after you touch your infected chinchilla, whether you were washing it, playing with it or just handling it.

5) Dust Baths for Fungal Treatment

All that being said, there is a way to make your chinchilla’s dust bath a more effective treatment for ringworm. You can add something called ‘flowers of sulfur’ to the bathing mix. It’s a bright yellow, very fine powder that has been used for hundreds of years.

This is used externally to treat a variety of skin issues. It’s a different substance to regular organic sulfur, which is for easing inflammation, and doesn’t kill fungus. You may find it at local pet stores, but you’ll likely have to buy it online.

6) Topical Prescription Medication

Topical medication is medication that’s rubbed into the affected area. The vet will tell you exactly how to apply it, and how much to use. Follow their advice. Here are some general tips for using it:

  • Wear disposable rubber gloves to apply ringworm cream
  • Remove the gloves and dispose of them immediately after using them
  • Don’t touch your chinchilla elsewhere on its body with the gloves

Because the ringworm will cause a bald patch, fur getting in the way shouldn’t be a problem. But if it is, do your best to only apply the cream to the area that’s affected rather than the fur around it.

It is possible to use OTC (over-the-counter) medication, particularly in light cases of ringworm. Common brands include Blu-Kote, Tinactin and Lamisil. These brands all seem to work fine, but we recommend talking to a vet, just in case the condition is more serious than you think.

7) Oral Prescription Medication

In serious cases of fungal infection, topical medication won’t work. That’s because the fungus isn’t just on the skin, but in the skin, so even if you kill the top layer of fungus the layers underneath will still be there. If that’s the case, you’ll need oral medication.

Oral medication is fed with a dropper. Because it’s an internal medication, it gets into the bloodstream, so in a sense attacks the fungus ‘from underneath’ rather than ‘from above’. You can administer oral medications at the same time as topical medications, although if they’re different kinds of antifungal, they may not work well together.

For dosage advice, ask a vet, and administer however much they tell you to. Continue the course until it is complete unless advised not to.

8) Home Remedies for Ringworm

There are many home remedies for ringworm, including using things like vinegar to clean the infected area. Home remedies are typically cheaper, and may be easier to administer, as you likely have some of the ‘ingredients’ at home.

Whatever the home remedy, we recommend using medication from a vet. Home remedies don’t work as well as medications, and when it comes to defeating a fungal or bacterial infection, it’s important to use the best treatment possible. That’s because the fungal spores continue to spread even during treatment; the idea is to kill them faster than they spread, which medications do, but home remedies don’t.

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New owner, don't know where to start? Or do you need a handy chinchilla reference guide? Check out our Chinchilla Care 101 eBook, or get what you need from our online store!