Ringworm is one of those infections that you often don’t see until it has gotten a good hold into the skin of your dog and when it has, you are never quite sure whether its something you can touch or you should leave well alone.
What does ringworm look like on a dog? A Ring shaped swelling or balding patch where the hair begins to disappear. It’s a fungal infection of the top layers of the skin and hair. It’s not as serious as it sounds or looks. Ringworm is generally quite harmless to both dogs and humans and is easily treatable with a visit to the vet and the application of creams or medication
You’re probably imagining a long, gangly worm wriggling around in the infected host in the shape of a circle. Well, you’re not even close. Ringworm is not a worm or even caused by a worm it is a fungal infection of the skin.
In this article we will take a look at where and how your beloved companion could get infected, how to cure it and prevent further infection and also, what the chances are of you becoming infected.
How Contagious is Ringworm from a Dog to a Human?
Ringworm is one of the contagious fungi and you can catch it through coming in direct contact with an infected dog. However, same as with a dog, you can only get infected if you have broken skin, i.e. a scratch, graze, wound or you suffer from a skin condition like eczema.
Most common illnesses among pets – such as distemper, canine parvovirus and heart worms – can’t spread to humans (luckily!). But our pets can also carry certain bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi that are transmittable to us and could make us quite sick.
As is the case with any illness or infection, people with weaker immune systems (young children, elderly people, people undergoing chemotherapy or treatment involving transplants or transfusions) are also more at a risk of getting infected.
If you haven’t picked up ringworm from your dog by the time your vet diagnoses them with it, then congrats! you probably won’t get it at all.
In people, ringworm causes a scaly, crusted rash that may appear as round, ring-like red patches on the skin. Other symptoms and signs of ringworm include patches of hair loss or scaling on the scalp, itching, and blister-like lesions. This explains where they got their name from!
How long does Ringworm last in a Dog?
Ringworm can last from 6 weeks to 18 months, but, it is not that serious compared to other infections or diseases. It won’t kill your dog and won’t cause any permanent damage either. They could have been infected for a while before you start noticing the signs, which are very similar to the signs humans will show. Some of these include:
- Dandruff-like scaling in the depths of the coat
- Red lesions on the head, chest, forelegs and the ridge of the back
- Scaling, crusting, thickening and reddening of the skin
- Circular patches of hair loss on the head, tail or the ridge of the dog’s back
The sooner you take them to the vet and start with treatment the easier it will be to get rid of the ringworm completely!
Once you start treating your pup it usually takes a minimum of 6 weeks for the infection to disappear entirely. That’s assuming that they don’t get infected again.
Ringworm spores (seeds) are very resilient and can live in the right contaminated environment for a long time – possibly up to 18 months – so the best thing to do is to try and restrict your dog to a single space and keep contact to your other pets or household members to a minimum whilst the treatment is on-going.
Otherwise they will just end up spreading the spores and re-infecting themselves (and potentially someone else) again.
If you can deep clean the area where the dog spends its time such as beds, kennels etc then you can help stop any reinfection and reduce the timespan it takes to get rid of this virus.
How Does a Dog get Ringworm?
Dogs get infected the same way humans do; through an open wound or broken skin. Puppies, elderly dogs, or long-haired breeds are also more commonly affected. They will first pick up the infection through direct contact either from another infected animal or a contaminated area or object.
The incubation period between exposure to the ringworm and the development of ringworm lesions usually ranges from seven to fourteen days; some cases may take up to 21 days before signs of infection develop! And in all that time you dog has potentially been spreading the infection.
Some puppies even carry the ringworm without showing any signs of being infected. These are called ‘asymptomatic carriers’ and are especially problematic since they will be spreading the infection to other animals and people and you won’t even know that they’re the one doing the dirty deed.
Remember, ringworm is a fungous and funguses thrive in damp, dirty or contaminated areas. So keep your living space clean and keep an eye on your pet when letting them play outside or going for walks. Ultimately, there is no way to prevent your dog completely from every getting infected by ringworm, or similar diseases. But you can help make it less likely.
How to treat Ringworm in Dogs
Treating Ringworm can easily be done with oral medications and/or a variety of creams, sprays and shampoos.
Detecting ringworm is actually quite difficult, since the symptoms look so similar to any normal skin condition or affliction. If your pup doesn’t have any skin condition history though, take them to the vet as soon as you notice the signs, to prevent any further spread of the potential infection.
If you have other pets, it’s very important that you check them for infection as well. After confirming that they are indeed suffering from ringworm, the vet will give you oral medication and/or ointments and shampoos to treat it.
The oral medication will stop the ringworm from reproducing, which is the first and most important step in the process of getting rid of it.
Note, that it’s very important you don’t abruptly stop treatment, or stop it sooner than recommended. This will just lead to re-infection and the whole cycle will repeat.
Next there is the topical medication (something that is applied to the skin). Depending on how widespread the infection already is, they will give you an anti-fungal shampoo that you will need to wash your dog with twice a week (or as instructed by your vet or the product instructions).
For milder cases they’ll give you medicated ointments or creams that you apply to the lesions directly. If your dog has long hair, your vet may also recommend shaving the areas in question or cutting your dog’s hair short to aid in the treatment and speed up recovery.
If you’ve managed to detect the signs of infection early on enough your vet might only give you a topical treatment. However, for best results, it’s recommended to use the oral and the topical medication in combination. Also, be sure to let them know if you have other pets at home Depending on the level of infection, your vet might advise to treat all of your pets together to ensure swift eradication of the ringworm.
Whilst you’re treating your dog you will need to treat your living area as well. Ringworms live on both skin and hair and are thus easily transmitted throughout the whole space by loose hair on your carpets or furniture.
A thorough deep clean is recommended:
- Vacuum or steam clean any carpets, furniture and dog beds or blankets – including underneath beds and couches. Basically everywhere your dog has been
- Wash down all surfaces with a good cleaning agent – something like bleach or any disinfectant
- If your dog has a toy or something that isn’t cleanable, get rid of it (sorry buddy, it’s for the best)
- Make sure to also clean your slippers or anything similar where any of the dog hair might have fallen.
You will also want to clean more regularly during the treatment time for maximum prevention of re-infection (this is good practice for future cleanliness habits anyway).
In conclusion, ringworm is hardly a life threatening infection and unless your dog, or you, are immune compromised or have broken skin, your chances of getting infected are slim. Recovery times vary and it could be up to a year before you can be sure that there is no risk of re-infection. And just like with any infectious disease, your dog and you could get infected again at any time.
The tricky part once infected is getting rid of them again as they spread so easily and are rather tough little critters. So, as they say the best cure is prevention and as long as you keep your environment clean and take care as to where you let your dog play outside, you’ll be fine.