Despite its name, Ringworm is not a worm at all but rather a fungus. The fungal infection is incredibly common and can infect almost all domestic animal species including dogs. Puppies less than a year old, however, are some of the most prone to be infected.
Because transmission of this fungus occurs as a result of contact with infected animals, bedding, dishes, or other materials in the environment where infected hair or scales may collect, ringworm infection can quickly spread in kennels, shelters and other places where there are many dogs in close proximity to one another. For this reason, new owners of puppies should be on the lookout for signs and symptoms of ringworm in their dogs.
Signs & Symptoms of Ringworm in Dogs
Typical symptoms of ringworm in dogs include lesions which appear on the puppy’s head, ears, paws, and forearms. These lesions could cause patchy, crusty and circular “bald spots” which may appear red in the center. Mild cases cases of the infection may only result in a few broken hairs while more severe infections can spread over most of the puppy’s body. However, it is entirely possible for your puppy to carry the fungus and show no symptoms whatsoever.
While ringworm is not life threatening, it is highly contagious and can spread quickly among dogs and humans. Ringworm usually does not itch, but the infected hair follicles are brittle and break easily, which helps spread the disease throughout your home. In some cases the fungus may infect your puppy’s claws, making them brittle and rough.
Contact your veterinarian if your puppy is displaying any of these symptoms:
- Circular areas of hair loss in dogs
- Dry, brittle hair
- Scabby, inflamed skin
- Rough, brittle claws
Hair loss, changes in coat, or inflamed skin can also be signs of more serious conditions as well, so it is important to monitor your puppy closely and take him to the vet when symptoms begin to appear.
Diagnosis & Treatment of Ringworm in Puppies
Your vet will diagnose ringworm by completing a physical exam and using certain diagnostic tests. The vet will likely 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 diagnosed, your vet will devise a treatment plan that may consist of three components: topical therapy, oral medications, and environmental decontamination.
Topical treatment may take several months to fully eliminate the infection, but helps to quickly prevent further environmental contamination. Topical therapies could include creams, ointments, or medicated shampoo to be applied over your puppy’s skin as frequently as directed. For long haired breeds, your vet may also suggest cutting your puppy’s coat to a shorter length or shaving the infected areas to speed up treatment.
Medications are typically used in conjunction with topical treatments. The oral medication will help fight the fungal infection and will need to be administered for a minimum of six weeks. But, like topical therapy, this may take months to completely treat the infection.
It is incredibly important to treat the infection for the entire period of time as prescribed by your vet. Just because the clinical symptoms go away does not mean your puppy is no longer contagious. Your vet will likely want to test your pup again before giving the “all clear.”
This part of treatment is one that often gets overlooked, but is extremely important to eliminating the infection. The fungal spores that cause ringworm live inside hair follicles which can remain contagious for months at a time surviving on furniture, bedding, grooming tools, and clothing – waiting to reinfect your puppy. Cleaning up all of this hair is a necessary part of treatment but can also be a bit of a challenge as most dog owners know.
Try to keep your infected puppy contained to hard surfaces like wood or tile floors when possible. This will make it easier to clean up hair and mop surfaces with a disinfectant recommended by your vet. Throughout treatment, vacuum daily and remove hair from all surfaces to prevent spreading of the infection.
Fully cleansing your puppy’s environment is the best way to prevent reinfection. And if you have other pets, be sure to get them tested for the infection as well – remember they don’t need to display symptoms to be infected. Once you have the “all clear” from your vet, you’ll be able to relax a little.