It may sound like a worm or parasite, but ringworm in dogs is actually a fungal infection. Its medical name is dermatophytosis and can occur in dogs, cats, and people.
It causes hair loss in patches with a crusty covering. The infection can easily be passed on from one dog to another or to other animals and humans.
In people, the infection is better known as athlete’s foot.
If you are worried that your pup may have ringworm, read on to find out more about the symptoms, how it is diagnosed and treated, how you can stop it from spreading, and other valuable tips to help you deal with and prevent this fungal infection.
What exactly is ringworm in dogs?
Ringworm is the common name for this fungal infection which causes red, round and raised rings on the skin.
The most common pathogenic fungi that cause ringworm in dogs is Microsporum canis, but it can also be due to the growth of Microsporum gypseum or Trichophyton mentagrophytes.
The fungus inhabits and grows in the top layer of the dog’s skin, as well as in the hair follicles and sometimes in its nails.
It causes round patches of crusty skin without hair. It is relatively uncommon, and the symptoms are often due to another skin or health condition.
Still, if you suspect that your pup may be suffering from ringworm, you should go to the vet to stop the infection and its spreading to other parts of the dog or to other animals and people.
The fungus produces spores that can live for years and can cause an infection when they contact broken skin.
Dogs with healthy skin and without any wounds or sores cannot get infected by ringworm.
In humans, the fungus infection causes one or more round patches of irritated and red skin. It usually affects young children or people with weakened immune systems, or those with damaged skin.
The common symptoms of ringworm in dogs
Although the infection looks like many other skin problems, here are some telltale signs that your dog may have picked up a ringworm infection:
- Hair loss in patches – usually circular in form
- A poor and dull coat and broken hairs
- Ulcerated, scabby, or inflated red skin
- Darkened skin
- Rough and brittle nails
- Itchiness – even though this may not always be present
Some more uncommon symptoms of ringworm include a raised lesion called a kerion which can begin oozing. If the nails and the surrounding skin are infected, the nails could become brittle, rough, and abnormally shaped.
Usually, ringworm occurs on the paws, legs, ears, and head of the dog, and it happens more often in young pups or elderly dogs.
Because these symptoms are pretty common in dogs, the vet should rule out other underlying causes for them, such as allergies, an infection, parasites, a nutrient imbalance, hypothyroidism, or Cushing’s disease.
How can dogs get infected by ringworm?
Although ringworm is not a dangerous or life-threatening condition, you should seek veterinary care and start treating it in order to prevent its spreading. This fungal infection is highly contagious and can spread to any other animal or human who comes into contact with the seeds of the pathogenic fungus (the spores).
Due to the fact that the affected hair becomes very brittle and starts to fall off, this makes spreading the spores around your home or outdoors even easier.
The spores remain viable for 18 months and more.
In some cases, the dogs may only be carriers of the fungus without any visible signs of ringworm.
Actually, there are several ways dogs can be contaminated by the fungi that cause ringworm.
One is actual physical contact with other dogs, cats, or people who are already infected or are carrying the fungi and spores.
The other is through the bedding, carpeting, furniture, bowls, brushes, and any other object which has come in contact with an infected animal.
Some fungi that cause this infection also spread their spores in the soil, so the dog can get infected after contact with this dirt.
Dogs with weaker immune systems, such as young puppies, senior pups, or those with other underlying health conditions, are more prone to get infected by ringworm. Plus, the infection can be more severe in these cases than in a healthy adult dog.
Ringworm is more common in environments where there are more animals, like in kennels or shelters, and in places where there is poor management of the infection, a lack of an adequate quarantine period and practice, or where there is poor nutrition.
Last but not least, dogs that have wounds, scabs, or flea infestations are more prone to getting ringworm.
Diagnosis of ringworm in dogs
Suppose you suspect that your pup may have ringworm. In that case, it is pertinent that you seek veterinary help to stop the infection and prevent it from spreading to other animals or humans.
The veterinarian may use an ultraviolet lamp to examine the skin and coat of the dog. Some types of fungus fluorescence when they are exposed to the light from a Wood’s lamp.
A skin scrape or plucked hair examined under a microscope can help identify a ringworm infection. Also, a sample from the dog’s skin may be placed in a dish and left for about 10 days to see whether it grows a fungal culture.
If the results from these tests are inconclusive, your vet may require further testing.
Treatment for ringworm in dogs
Usually, the treatment of ringworm in dogs does not require hospitalization. But since the infection is highly contagious and can be transmitted to humans, a quarantine procedure should be considered.
Suppose you have people or other pets at home that are young, old or immunosuppressed. In that case, the vet may recommend that the dog remain in the quarantine area of the clinic or be isolated completely from contact with others until the infection is cured.
Your vet may ask that you bring the other pets for thorough examinations for possible ringworm infection and may recommend that they be treated for the fungal infection as well.
In some mild cases of ringworm in dogs, the infection can be treated with topical treatment only. Topical treatment may take several months to work but is particularly effective for stopping the contamination of the environment with spores from the pathogenic fungus causing the ringworm infection.
If the dog has long hair, trimming or shaving could help the topical medication to reach the infected skin easily.
Some other treatment options include sulfur dips, bathing with miconazole shampoos and performing enilconazole rinses.
In more severe cases of ringworm in dogs, your vet may prescribe an oral anti-fungal medication such as fluconazole, itraconazole, terbinafine, griseofulvin, or ketoconazole. Usually, oral medication will need to be given for a minimum of six weeks, but sometimes it may take longer for the infection to be completely eliminated.
In most cases, the treatment should continue for several months and should only be stopped after the follow-up tests show that the infection is gone and that the pup is free of ringworm.
In case there is an underlying condition for the infection, such as an illness, the use of immunosuppressive drugs, malnutrition, or others – it will be treated as well.
You must follow the instructions and stick to the treatment plan for as long as prescribed to ensure that the fungus infection has been completely eliminated.
Your dog will need to be re-tested in order to consider taking it out of quarantine or allowing it to meet other dogs, people and animals.
Since the spores live in the environment and can survive for a year and a half, you will need to perform environmental decontamination in your home or wherever the dog resides.
This means cleaning or disposing of all beddings, grooming brushes, and cleaning your furniture, carpeting and your entire home from the dog hairs which could be contaminated with the spores.
It is a good idea to keep the dog in a room that doesn’t have carpeting and is easy to clean and wash during its treatment for ringworm.
Daily vacuuming, mopping or using a disinfectant or steam cleaning is required to remove all dog hairs and kill off any spores lying around on the floor or anywhere else in the room.
Is ringworm in dogs contagious to people?
Yes, this fungal infection is zoonotic, and hence it can be passed on from dogs to people.
But before you start panicking, you need to know that you cannot catch this fungal infection if your skin is healthy and free from scratches or wounds.
The fungus needs broken skin in order to infect the new host.
You could be at risk of getting infected with ringworm if you have a skin condition such as eczema or another condition or injury causing the skin to break.
Also, people with weak immune systems are more likely to be infected by the pathological fungi causing ringworm. This includes young children, elderly people, or people with suppressed immune systems due to transfusions, chemotherapy or others.
To stay on the safe side, do not let your kids touch the dog while it is being treated for ringworm.
When you need to interact with your pup and treat it, you should wear gloves and an apron.
Also, pregnant women should not handle or touch some of the oral medications which are prescribed for ringworm.
In most cases, if you haven’t already picked up the infection by the time you start noticing the symptoms of ringworm in your dog, then you will most likely not get it all.
In people, ringworm is more commonly referred to as athlete’s foot. It causes the development of one or more red circular-shaped lesions on the skin.
It can be itchy, quite uncomfortable, and unsightly, so if you notice that anyone from your family has similar symptoms and your dog has been diagnosed with ringworm, you should call your doctor.
Is ringworm in dogs contagious to other pets and animals?
Most domestic animals can get ringworm, including cats and even livestock. In fact, the dog ringworm Microsporum canis fungus is almost always responsible for ringworm in cats as well.
If your dog is diagnosed with ringworm, your vet will probably request to examine the other pets at home.
You may also be advised to treat all of the animals in the household for ringworm together, just to prevent the spreading of the infection and also the passing of the infection from one pet to the other back and forth over and over again.
How to prevent ringworm in dogs from spreading?
Being such a contagious infection, and because the spores can survive outside of a living host for over 18 months, it is crucial to quarantine the dog while treated for ringworm.
This is best done by restricting the dog to a room that is easy to clean and disinfect.
This will prevent the spores from spreading throughout the house and reduce the risk of the dog or your other pets or family members getting re-infected or infected by the fungus.
If you have carpeting and upholstered furniture, you need to vacuum them daily, and if possible, steam cleans them to kill off the spores or remove them.
They usually fall off the infected dog via its hair, so you will need to make sure that your home is hair free and clean while the dog is cleared as infection-free and cured of ringworm.
When you are done vacuuming your home, you have to empty the content of the bag or waste container and burn the contents.
Clean the hard floors and other furniture with a disinfectant. You can ask your vet which disinfectant is efficient for eradicating the spores.
The beddings, grooming tools, and dog toys that cannot be disinfected properly should be burnt too.
If you have other pets at home, your vet may recommend that you treat them for ringworm simultaneously with the dog as a precaution.
You should keep them and young children, people with a compromised immune system, or those with scratches or open wounds from touching the dog.
When handling the pup, you are advised to wear gloves and a protective apron.
When you take the dog outside, you should stay away from other dogs and animals.
Once the vet says that the dog is clear of ringworm, you can proceed to live your life normally once again.
Usually, the treatment can take 6 weeks or last for several months, during which you should take all precautions to eliminate any leftover spores. It is important to follow the vet’s instructions closely and be consistent with the treatment and follow-up examinations to make sure that your pup gets completely cured and isn’t a threat to other animals or humans.
Living and management of ringworm in dogs
The best way to monitor your dog’s progress and how it is responding to the treatment of ringworm is via repeated fungal cultures from samples from the dog’s skin or hair.
Remember that even though your dog may look better when you start the treatment, the ringworm may still be present on its skin, hair, or nails.
Even if your dog looks perfectly healthy, you shouldn’t discontinue the treatment or stop the quarantine process before you get a heads-up from your vet.
There is a large risk of the dog relapsing and infecting other pets or people if the treatment is not carried on as long as recommended.
Most vets will wait until there are zero clinical signs of the ringworm and until a negative fungal culture is found before recommending that the treatment and quarantine are stopped.
In some cases, when the vet has prescribed oral medications for ringworm, you may be asked to go on monthly checkups for blood work to monitor the effect of the drugs on the dog’s liver too.
If you have other pets at home, you may be asked to test and screen them for ringworm as well.
This is the best course to take in order to prevent reinfections from occurring.
Prevention of ringworm in dogs
In order to keep the infection contained, the infected dog will need to be kept isolated from people and other animals, as well as restricted to an area that is easy to clean and disinfect.
When handling the dog, you should wear disposable gloves and an apron.
Vacuum, steam clean and disinfect the room where you keep the dog thoroughly on a daily basis to remove any dog hair and spores. The bedding, toys, and grooming tools need to be burned, and all of the dirt collected during the cleaning should be burned as well.
If your dog or other pets have not had ringworm, you don’t need to worry about taking preventive measures against this fungal infection.