Unlike many other things you have to worry about with your dog, like tapeworms, whipworms, and heartworms, ringworm isn't actually a parasitic worm; it's a fungal infection. Ringworm is common and infects just about every kind of domestic animal. If you have a dog, you should know the causes and symptoms of ringworm and how to treat and prevent it.
Ringworm is the common name for dermatophytosis. This fungal disease causes a variety of symptoms, but the most prominent is the ring-shaped lesion that appears when a dog or other animal is infected. Most cases of ringworm respond to treatment, but ringworm is very contagious, so dealing with it also means doing what you can to stop the spread.
Ringworm is spread through direct contact. Dogs can get ringworm from touching the fungus in the wild or coming in contact with another dog or animal with it or a contaminated piece of clothing, a food bowl, carpet, or furniture. The spores that spread ringworm are typically shed on an infected hair and can remain viable for as long as 18 months.
On dogs, ringworm usually looks like a patch of scaly skin. These patches typically develop on the dog's ears, head, limbs, or paws, but you can find them anywhere. Some cases are minor, with only bits of hair loss, but they can become red, itchy, and irritated. When dogs have ringworm on their paws, their nails can become brittle and break easily. You may also see changes in their coat with dry and brittle fur and scabs on the skin.
Most dogs get ringworm from coming in contact with an infected animal or contaminated object. Some types of ringworm live in the soil. If you live in a warm environment and have dogs that like to dig around in the dirt, they might get it this way. Young and old dogs and those with weakened immune systems or longing skin conditions are more likely to get it. Dogs that spend time boarding around lots of other dogs are more likely to be exposed. Some breeds are more genetically prone to getting ringworm, like Jack Russell terries, Yorkshire terriers, and Boston terriers.
Call your vet if you suspect your pooch has ringworm. They'll have multiple ways to diagnose it, including a Wood's lamp — a specialized lamp that uses blacklight to showcase the fungus. The fungal culture lets your vet collects hair, scabs, and scales from the infected dog and add them to a culture medium. Cultures are effective, but a positive result may take three to five days. Some vets use a newer test called a PCR test, which uses hairs from the infected dog to look for fungal DNA. This test is much faster than a fungal culture, but it isn't a reliable way to retest to be sure the ringworm infection has cleared completely.
In most healthy dogs, ringworm infections clear on their own, but it's still a good idea to seek treatment to shorten the duration of the infection and help stop it from spreading to other animals. Vets may prescribe oral medication to fight the fungal infection in moderate and severe cases, but most dogs are treated with topical sprays and creams a few times a day and a dip or bath once a week.
A big part of treating your pup for ringworm is decontaminating the environment. Cleaning likely won't get rid of every spore, but it's the best way to prevent reinfection and stop ringworm from spreading to other pets and people in the home. Wipe down all surfaces and vacuum thoroughly, then disinfect everything you can. Use bleach when possible and steam clean rugs, carpets, and furniture. Wash clothing, blankets, and other fabric items with bleach if you can. Isolate your dog from other pets during treatment, and thoroughly disinfect that room once the dog is better.
Ringworm responds well to treatment, and most dogs recover without a problem. Reinfection is the biggest issue because this condition is so contagious. Dog owners should know that some pups can be carriers of ringworm, spreading it to other animals without showing any signs of infection. Because of this, once one animal in the home is diagnosed with ringworm, it's a good idea to treat all of your animals.
You can't completely prevent ringworm. It naturally occurs in the environment and is extremely contagious. But you can lower the risks that your dog will get ringworm by taking care of your dog's skin and making sure they're as healthy as possible. Groom your dogs regularly, and take them to the vet for routine checkups. Keep your home clean, wash your pup's bedding and toys clean, and don't let your dogs around other animals if they have open wounds or rashes.
You already know ringworm is extremely contagious, but it's worth pointing out that it's not just something dogs pass to other dogs and animals. People can get ringworm, too. Not only that, but it's possible you can give ringworm to your pet! Anyone can get ringworm, but those most at risk are young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with a suppressed immune system.
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