With so many parasites out there, it is tempting to lump ringworm in the same category as hookworms, whipworms, roundworms, and tapeworms. Despite its name, however, ringworm is not actually a worm—it is a fungus. This fungal infection is common all over the world and infects almost all species of domestic animals, including dogs, which is why dog owners should know the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for ringworm.
What Is Ringworm?
Ringworm, as the fungus is commonly called, is named for the round, raised, red ring appearance usually seen in human ringworm infections. Ringworm, scientifically known as dermatophytes, is a collection of pathogenic fungi. In dogs, 70 percent of ringworm cases are caused by the fungus Microsporum canis, 20 percent are caused by the fungus Microsporum gypseum, and just 10 percent are caused by Trichophyton mentagrophytes.
The fungus grows and lives in the outermost layer of skin and in the hair follicles of infected dogs, and occasionally in the nails. The infection is superficial, and in most cases only affects a few areas of the dog’s body. Puppies, senior dogs, and immunocompromised dogs sometimes suffer from more widespread ringworm infections.
How Is Ringworm in Dogs Spread?
Ringworm in dogs spreads through direct contact with the fungus. This can happen when a dog comes in direct contact with an infected animal or person or touches a contaminated object like a couch, comb, food bowls, bedding, or carpet. The fungal spores responsible for the spread can remain viable for up to 18 months and typically spread through shedding or breaking of infected hairs.
Symptoms of Ringworm in Dogs
Ringworm is not a life-threatening disease, but it is very contagious and does require the intervention of a veterinarian. Knowing the symptoms of ringworm in dogs can help you catch the disease before it passes to humans or other pets.
In dogs, ringworm usually presents as circular areas of hair loss throughout the body. These lesions may start to heal in the center as they enlarge, creating a patchy appearance, and may become inflamed or scabbed.
Ringworm usually does not itch. The affected hair follicles are brittle and break easily, which helps spread the disease throughout your home. In some cases the fungus infects the claws, making them brittle and rough.
Contact your veterinarian if your dog experiences any or all of these symptoms:
- Circular areas of hair loss
- Dry, brittle hair
- Scabby, inflamed skin
- Rough, brittle claws
Hair loss, changes in coat appearance, or inflamed skin could be a sign of another condition. Skin problems are associated with many serious underlying conditions in dogs, like Cushing’s disease, hypothyroidism, a nutrient imbalance, or could simply be symptoms of other skin conditions like allergies, a different parasite, or an infection. Learn more about the causes of dry skin on dogs
Can Other Animals Get Ringworm?
Cats can get ringworm, too, and the fungus responsible for most cases of ringworm in dogs, Microsporum canis, is also responsible for 98 percent of ringworm in cats. Since many dog owners also have cats in the home, this means that the risk of the fungus spreading from cats to dogs and dogs to cats is relatively high.
Most species of domestic animals can get ringworm, including livestock, so talk to your vet about the risk of spreading ringworm between your pets and other animals.
Can Humans Get Ringworm?
You might be familiar with ringworm by a different name, like “athlete’s foot.” Ringworm in dogs is not just a problem for your pup. Humans can get Microsporum canis, too, which is another reason why it is important to take this condition seriously. Young children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems are at an increased risk of contracting ringworm from dogs, but anyone can contract this unsightly and uncomfortable parasite.
In humans, ringworm presents as a roughly circular rash that is often red and itchy. If you or a family member notices a rash on your body after your dog has been diagnosed with ringworm, contact your primary care physician.
Treatment of Ringworm in Dogs
Your vet will diagnose your dog with ringworm by performing a diagnostic test, as well as a physical exam. He will probably take a sample of hair or skin cells for a fungal culture or examine infected hairs under a special ultraviolet light called a Wood’s lamp.
Once ringworm is diagnosed, your vet will discuss a treatment plan for your dog. This treatment plan depends on the severity of the case, the number of pets in the household, and whether or not there are children or immunocompromised adults in the home.
Treating ringworm in dogs usually consists of three steps:
- Topical therapy
- Oral medications
- Environmental decontamination
Topical Therapy for Ringworm
Your veterinarian will probably recommend a topical therapy, like a cream, ointment, and/or medicated shampoo to help treat and control the infection. Your vet might also suggest clipping long-haired dogs to speed up treatment and shaving the hair from affected areas. Topical therapy can take several months to fully eliminate the infection, but does help prevent environmental contamination.
Oral Medications for Ringworm
Oral therapy is usually used in conjunction with a topical therapy. Anti-fungal oral medications help fight the infection and, like topical therapy, need to be administered for a minimum of six weeks, but in some cases could take months to take full effect.
Your vet will most likely ask you if you have any other pets in the household and might advise that you test and treat them for ringworm, as well, even if they are not currently showing signs of a ringworm infection. It is also very important that owners continue to treat for ringworm for the prescribed period of time. Just because the clinical signs go away doesn’t mean that your dog is no longer contagious, and your vet will most likely want to retest your dog for ringworm before giving you the “all’s clear.”
The spores that live inside the hair follicles remain contagious for months at a time, surviving on couches, grooming tools, bedding, furniture, and clothing. Cleaning up all this hair is a part of treatment, but as many dog owners know, also a bit of a challenge.
Some owners keep their dogs in rooms that are easy to clean during the time they are infected with ringworm. This makes it easier to eliminate stray hairs and to mop with a disinfectant recommended by your veterinarian. If you can’t contain your dog to hard floors, daily vacuuming and removal of hair from furniture and surfaces can help prevent ringworm from spreading.
Preventing Ringworm in Dogs
Most owners don’t have to worry about ringworm prevention on a regular basis unless they have already had a case of ringworm in one or more pets. The best ways to prevent reinfection of ringworm in dogs are to fully cleanse the environment of the home and any tools and bedding that the animals regularly come into contact with, and to follow the instructions of your veterinarian.
Knowing the symptoms of ringworm in dogs can help you prevent the spread of ringworm from dogs to people or other pets. For more information about ringworm or if you suspect that your dog might have ringworm, contact your veterinarian.