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What To Do About Ringworm In Dogs

by ashley

Scaly, dry skin, and telltale red rings are the hallmarks of the no-fun fungal infection commonly referred to as ringworm. If your dog is suffering from a bout of ringworm, you’re probably looking for canine ringworm cures to tame the outbreak. What to do when Rover has ringworm? Doggy Advice is here to help rescue your furry friend with information about what a ringworm infection is, how your doggo managed to contract it, and what you can do in terms of treatment to bring your pup relief from ringworm. 

What Is Ringworm? 

Interestingly, this condition isn’t caused by worms at all. In your vet’s vocab, ringworm is called dermatophytosis, so named for the pathogenic fungi called dermatophytes that cause the condition when they come into contact with skin. 

The three main fungal species responsible for ringworm infections in canines are Microsporum canis, Microsporum gypseum, and trichophyton mentagrophytes. Scientific tongue-twister names aside, here’s the lowdown on these funky funguses and the effect they can have on your canine companion’s coat, claws, and skin. 

Signs and Symptoms of Canine Ringworm Infection

All three of the above species of fungus are zoonotic, meaning your doggo could spread it to you if they’ve got ringworm, and vice versa, you could pass on an infection to Fido. Let’s take a look at the difference between human and canine symptoms to help you discern if your doggo has a ringworm infection.  

In humans, each strain displays differently, and the symptoms may vary slightly based on where the infection is on the body. In general, human ringworm infection presents as the namesake bright red, ring-shaped lesions that are typically inflamed and itchy. The skin may even be scaly or flaky in the affected area. 

By contrast, canine ringworm infections are also likely to result in scaly skin, but the similarities end there. Instead of red rings, you’re more likely to see circular patches of hair loss where the skin is dry and flaky. That’s because the fungi feed on keratin, which is found in high-supply for them in your pup’s hair, skin, and claws. With on-the-body ringworm, the fungus infects your doggo’s hair follicles, resulting in said hairless patches. 

These areas may seem like bald spots with little to no redness, and the infection may not seem to bother your pup much in terms of itchiness. That’s not to say that redness and itchiness don’t occur, just that these may not be your pooch’s predominant symptoms. These patchy, bald spots can crop up on any part of a dog’s body, although they most commonly occur on the head and ears or the paws and limbs. If the infection spreads to your pet’s paws, it can even infect their claws, resulting in nail infections and brittle claws that break easily.

How or even whether you notice your dog’s ringworm infection has a lot to do with the severity of the case. If the condition is mild and your pup is an asymptomatic carrier, they may not present any signs or symptoms at all. Yet, they’ll still be able to pass on the infection to other pups and humans they come into contact with. 

On the other hand, a severe case can result in painful lesions that spread all over the body. Because their immune systems aren’t as healthy, young puppies, older dogs, and immunocompromised pups could experience a more serious bout of ringworm. 

Ringworm can be tricky to diagnose on your own because of the wide variety of ways in which it can present and the differences between the symptoms of a human versus a canine infection. Long story short, if you or your canine companion shows signs of a ringworm infection, it’s time for a visit to the physician and/or the vet. 

How Did My Dog Get Ringworm?

Often when a ringworm infection crops up in your pup, you want to know how it happened. That way, you can avoid those same circumstances in the future and help keep Fido fungus free. Ringworm is considerably contagious, so there are a good number of options about where your pup picked it up. 

When it’s not being hosted by humans or their canine counterparts, the fungus feasts on plain old dirt. Your doggo could have scooped up the spores while digging to bury a bone, romping around at the dog park, or curled up in their favorite shady spot. Outdoor exposure is one way your pup can contract ringworm, and direct contact with another infected dog or human is another. 

Veterinary Centers of America warns that if your pup has recently been to a kennel, dog training group, or a groomer, these are also possible sources of infection. Obviously, you want to avoid direct contact with animals or people who have an active bout of ringworm. Still, as mentioned above, an asymptomatic carrier can share the spores without anyone realizing what’s happened.

Finally, this fungus is long-lasting on surfaces. The shedding and breaking hairs caused by the ringworm infection carry spores that can generate new infections up to 18 months later. This includes furniture, dog beds, brushes or combs, food dishes, and carpet. 

The answer to this question is that your pup could’ve picked up a ringworm infection just about anywhere. Once you know that your dog has ringworm, it’s more important to focus on treatment, healing, and prevention. Let’s take a look at some treatment options and advice for keeping ringworm away. 

Can I Catch Ringworm From My Dog?

Yes, as we mentioned above, the infection can pass between humans and animals. Any contact with ringworm fungus, from touching your infected furry friend to handling their bedding, puts you at risk for infection. Take extra care if you have small children, elderly people, or someone with a compromised immune system are more susceptible, and the illness may be more severe for them. 

Before you toss your pup in the doghouse, it’s also good to know that contact with the fungus doesn’t necessarily result in infection every time. The amount of contamination in the environment, as well as the age and immune health of both people and pups, is an important determining factor in the severity of a ringworm infection. The good news is that healthy adults are typically resistant to ringworm unless there is a break in the skin like a scratch or a cut through which the fungus can enter. 

How to Treat Canine Ringworm

If you think your furry best friend has contracted ringworm, the first step is a visit to the vet. Your vet will be able to examine your pet and do some diagnostic testing to confirm a ringworm infection. Diagnostic testing can be done through a fungal culture using skin or hair cell samples or through a fluorescence test using ultraviolet light from a doggy diagnostic device called a Wood’s Lamp.

Until you can get to the vet to find out what course of treatment they’ll suggest for your pup, here’s what the American Kennel Club offers in the case of ringworm infection, a trifecta of topical therapy, oral medications, and environmental decontamination. 

Topical Therapy

Your vet will likely suggest skincare solutions since ringworm affects your doggo’s epidermis. Ringworm will actually go away on its own, but topical treatment can help clear it up a bit more quickly. Topical therapy treatments can include creams, ointments, and medicated shampoos to help your pup ditch the ringworm itch. For canines with long, luxurious fur, your vet may suggest a pup-haircut as well. 

Topical treatment is a marathon, not a sprint, and you may need to keep up with whichever treatment your vet prescribes for several months. You’re in it for the long haul with topical treatments, but the bonus is that taking these measures now can help keep environmental contamination at bay. 

Oral Medications

Topical therapy and oral medications combine to form a powerhouse canine ringworm treatment. In severe cases, your vet may consider doubling these two up to clear up your pup’s infection. Oral antifungal medication helps fight the infection from within, while topical treatments tackle the fungus on the surface of the skin. 

This treatment tactic is usually reserved for more serious cases since oral antifungal medications come complete with a list of less than pleasant side effects, and they tend to be quite a bit more costly than topical therapies. 

Like topical treatments, it can be necessary to continue administering oral medication for a few months. The time frame depends on various factors, including the severity of the infection. A typical course of oral medication for ringworm takes a minimum of 6 weeks. Similar to antibiotic treatments, it’s essential to stay the course and administer the drug for the full amount of time prescribed by your vet. Otherwise, you risk recurrence of the ringworm in full force. Once you’ve completed the entire course of medication, your pup will typically need to receive two negative ringworm cultures before your vet declares your doggo in the clear. 

Treatment plans may also be adjusted based on the number of pet companions you cohabitate with. The more fur babies you have, the greater the likelihood they’ll share the infection between them. Don’t be surprised if your vet suggests testing any pet siblings in the house, even if they haven’t shown any symptoms. 

The most important thing to remember is that even as the physical symptoms subside, the spores that carry the infection can remain active. Diligence in treatment and prevention is the ticket to taking on ringworm. 

Environmental Decontamination

Since those contagious ringworm spores can live for up to a year and a half on surfaces, it’s essential to eliminate them from your environment through decontamination. It can certainly be a challenge to try to catch every stray strand on the carpet, furniture, bedding, and grooming tools, but there are some ways to make it a bit easier to decontaminate your doggo’s environment. 

If possible, quarantine your pup. If you live in a mild climate and your canine companion loves fresh air, a cozy doghouse in the backyard can keep the spores out of your space. If outdoor living isn’t an option, keep your dog in a part of your home with hard floors and free of fabric surfaces. Alternatively, if easy-clean surfaces aren’t readily available, you can vacuum carpets and furniture regularly. Also, be sure to ask your vet if they recommend a particular home disinfectant. 

In addition, The Spruce Pets has these safety suggestions for stopping the spore spread. 

  • Empty your vacuum cleaner into an outdoor trash container to prevent the dust from getting onto other surfaces in your home. 
  • Medical grade gloves should be used when handling any contaminated items. 
  • Dispose of and replace pet-specific rugs, carpets, bedding, and toys. If you really don’t want to get rid of it, you can consider washing bedding and toys in a bleach solution. 
  • Use soap and water to disinfect surfaces and follow up with a diluted bleach solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water. 

Canine Ringworm Prevention

Until your pup has had a ringworm infection, there’s no need to keep them confined in the house for fear of contracting a fungus. Since it lives in the soil, and there’s no way you’re gonna keep your pup from putting their paws in the grass and dirt, there’s no way to be totally sure your doggo will never encounter ringworm. In the meantime, keep up with good hygiene and grooming habits, wash pet bedding in hot water, and keep carpets vacuumed for the best shot to beat ringworm before it happens. 

Once your pup has had an infection, prevention is the name of the game. You’ll want to stop the spread of the spores through the treatment means above, plus you’ll want to be conscious of not putting your pup in close contact with other canine or human companions for a while. That means forestalling Fido’s trips to the dog park and any other out-and-about locations you ordinarily enjoy. Remember that while these measures may seem restrictive, it’s not forever, and you and your pup can take the opportunity to rest easy at home a while until your vet clears your doggo as contagion free. 


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