When is a worm not a worm? When it’s ringworm!
Ringworm is a fungus and not a parasite like a roundworm or a tapeworm. This fungal infection is common just about everywhere across the globe. It can affect nearly all species of domestic pets, including dogs.
Although not life-threatening, it’s worth being aware of its symptoms and causes so that you can seek treatment when necessary. Read on for the lowdown on ringworm, or dermatophytosis to give its veterinary term.
What Is Ringworm in Dogs?
Ringworm gets its name due to the round, raised, red ring appearance you’d typically see in human ringworm infections. There are 3 main types of fungi that affect dogs:
- Microsporum canis: causes 70 percent of ringworm cases
- Microsporum gypseum: causes 20 percent
- Trichophyton mentagrophytes: responsible for the remaining 10 percent
The fungus can develop and live in the outer layer of an infected dog’s skin, in the hair, and sometimes in the nails. Young, senior, and immunocompromised dogs can suffer from more widespread ringworm infections.
How Does Ringworm Spread?
Ringworm in dogs gets passed around through any direct contact with the fungus. This might take place if a dog has contact with an infected animal or human. It can also happen if they touch a contaminated object such as a food bowl, comb, or chair. Importantly, the fungal spores attach to hair – thus if an infected dog sheds their hair then anywhere the hair goes can become infectious.
The fungal spores of ringworm can lie dormant in the environment for up to a year and a half. They’ll usually spread due to the shedding or breaking of infected hairs.
What Are the Symptoms of Ringworm in Dogs?
In dogs, the areas of the body typically affected by these common skin problem in dogs are the ears, tail, face, and feet. Symptoms will normally include one or more of the following:
- Circular patches of hair loss, often with a crusty and red edge
- A poor coat and broken pieces of hair
- Dry, scaly skin patches and high levels of dandruff
- Inflamed or dark areas of skin
- Scratching, itching, and over-grooming
- Misshapen, dry, or brittle nails with inflammation in the nail beds
- Dry, darkened, brittle, or misshapen nails
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Lesions and Brittle Claws
Ringworm is highly contagious and will generally need the help of a vet to bring it under control. In dogs, it typically presents as circular areas of hair loss in specific areas of the body.
Lesions may appear 1-3 weeks after exposure. These may begin to heal from the middle as they get bigger. That gives a patchy appearance to the skin that may get inflamed or form a scab.
Although ringworm tends not to itch, some dogs may find it irritating and want to scratch it. Affected hair follicles become brittle and will break off easily, helping the disease to spread in the home. Sometimes the fungus gets into the claws, causing them to become brittle and rough.
Are Cats and Humans at Risk of Getting Ringworm?
The short answer is yes.
Microsporum canis, the most common type of ringworm in dogs, causes almost all cases of ringworm in cats. If you keep both dogs and cats as pets, the risk of ringworm spreading from one animal to another is high.
Humans can get Microsporum canis as well. We sometimes refer to the condition as athlete’s foot. It can also appear on the body as a round-like rash that’s often itchy and red.
People at most risk are those with weaker immune systems. These can include young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those on chemotherapy or on medication that weakens the body’s ability to fight diseases.
Treatment for Ringworm in Dogs
There are 2 typical treatments for ringworm in dogs. These are:
- Topical therapies
- Oral medications
Because ringworm is so contagious, you should make every effort to keep your dog away from mixing with other pets and limit their contact with friends and family.
Topical Therapy for Ringworm
Bathing plays an important part in the treatment as it can help kill off the fungal spores on a dog’s fur.
There are two main types of topical treatments: antifungal shampoos and Lime Sulfur dips. Lime Sulfur dips tend to work better although they can be quite messy (and smelly!) so many pet owners choose to have them done at a veterinary clinic.
Antifungal shampoos along with a disinfectant like chlorhexidine work well together to get rid of ringworm. Twice weekly treatments should be sufficient. However, topical therapy can last several months to get rid of the infection completely and to help stop further environmental contamination.
Ointments tend not to be as effective against ringworm infections. Your vet would probably not recommend shaving dogs with very long coats. This is because the tiny abrasions that crop up during shaving can make the dog more likely to pick up more of the infection.
Oral Medications for Ringworm
Your vet might prescribe an oral medication to use with any topical treatment. You will typically have to give them to your dog for at least 6 weeks, They can sometimes take months to have their full effect even if there are no signs of ringworm left.
If you have other pets, your vet may advise you to get them tested and treated even when they don’t display any symptoms of ringworm.
Because the fungal spores can survive on furnishings, grooming tools, bedding, and clothing for months on end, keeping the home clean of hair is an essential challenge.
You might need to limit the rooms your dog can use in order to mitigate the risks and make it easier to get rid of hairs. Vacuuming (to remove infectious hairs) and mopping with a disinfectant are often key recommendations.
Recovery from Ringworm in Dogs
Provided you follow the instructions of your vet and continue treatment for the recommended length of time, your dog should make a full recovery. It should be noted that while ringworm can be very annoying and frustrating to deal with – in the vast majority of the time it isn’t at all dangerous to the pet or pet parent.
The process can be frustrating. Although it may look as though your dog is free of ringworm, the spores may still be lurking. You must therefore carry on treating your dog for the necessary period of time and continue to keep the home clean of hair.
Worried About Ringworm?
If you have concerns about ringworm, contact us today. A member of our highly-trained and experienced veterinary team is on hand to help. Book a slot now.