How Do You Catch Ringworm?

Ringworm Basics

Two girls playing in backyard
Other kids are a common source of ringworm infections. Camille Tokerud Photography Inc./Iconica/Getty Images

Ringworm is common in children, and although parents are quick to blame their pets for giving their kids this rash, the family dog or cat isn't always to blame.

And despite the name, ringworm has nothing to do with worms. The name comes from the characteristic ring shape that the rash often takes on.

How Do You Catch Ringworm?

So how do kids get ringworm?  Often, it is like the many other infections they get, and they simply get it from direct contact with other kids at daycare or school.

They might even get ringworm from an infected family member.

There are types of ringworm fungi that do infect pets, farm animals, and wild animals, though, so your pets can be a source.  And although it is likely a rare source of infection for children, there are some that are even found in the soil.

You can even get ringworm by having contact with objects that have had contact with an infected person or pet, such as a brush, towel, or hat.  So there can be many different sources for a child's ringworm infection.

So Was It The Cat?

If your child has ringworm and you have a pet, especially a kitten or a puppy, then you should likely check your pet for a rash. Better yet, contact your veterinarian to make sure your pet isn't infected and the source of your child's ringworm. This can be important so that your child doesn't get reinfected after you get his rash treated.

Keep in mind that it isn't always easy to recognize if a pet has ringworm.

According to the CDC, "Puppies and kittens most often have patches that are hairless, circular, or irregularly shaped areas of scaling, crusting, and redness that may or may not be itchy. The area may not be completely hairless and instead have brittle, broken hairs. If the claws are affected, they may have a whitish, opaque appearance with the shredding of the claw's surface," but "Adult animals, especially long-haired cats, do not always show signs of ringworm infection."

Again, finding the source of the ringworm infection becomes especially important if your child's ringworm keeps coming back.

Avoiding Ringworm

To avoid ringworm, it can help to:

  • Encourage good handwashing when your kids play or pet your pets
  • Vacuum and disinfect areas where your pet sleeps and spends a lot of time
  • Wear water shoes or sandals in public pools and showers (tinea pedis - ringworm of the feet)
  • Keep feet clean and dry, including that your kids change their socks if they get wet or are overly sweaty
  • Not share sports gear with teammates, including caps and helmets (tinea capitis - ringworm of the scalp)
  • Shampoo with a selenium sulfide shampoo (like Selsun Blue), as a method to make ringworm of the scalp less contagious

And although ringworm is contagious, your child doesn't necessarily have to stay home from school or daycare while he is being treated for ringworm. If you want to be extra careful that he doesn't infect anyone else, cover the ringworm for the first 48 hours of treatment, since it does usually require direct contact to spread the infection. After 48 hours, a ringworm is usually not contagious.

If the ringworm is on an area that can't be easily covered than staying home might be necessary.

And clean your child's sheets and avoid sharing towels, etc., at least until he has been treated for at least 48 hours.

Keep in mind that some contact sports organizations have much stricter return to play guidelines for when kids with ringworm can return after treatment. For example, many high school wrestling organizations require at least three days of topical antifungal medication for tinea corporis (ringworm on the body) and 7 to 14 days of oral medication for tinea capitis.


Zinder, Steven M., Ph.D., ATC. National Athletic Trainers' Association Position Statement: Skin Diseases. J Athl Train. 2010 Jul-Aug; 45(4): 411–428.