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Ringworm in dogs

  • Ringworm isn’t actually a worm, but a fungus that is similar to athlete’s foot
  • Dogs with ringworm suffer hair loss, usually in patches, with a crusty covering but lots of other skin conditions look very similar
  • Ringworm can be passed from your dog to you and other people who come into contact with your dog
  • If you think your dog has ringworm, visit your vet for advice and treatment. But ringworm doesn’t occur very often and lots of other skin conditions look similar.

Despite its name, ringworm is not a worm but a fungus, similar to athlete’s foot.

It produces infective ‘seeds’ called spores, which are quite hardy and are tricky to get rid of in the environment. They can live for years and it takes just one spore to cause an infection. However, only broken skin can be infected; a dog with healthy skin will not pick up a ringworm infection.

Ringworm can infect skin in all animals, including people as well as dogs, although infection in people is uncommon and it usually just causes one or two circular patches of red, irritated skin. It can sometimes be more severe in children, or people with a weakened immune system. If you think you have ringworm, see your doctor. Infection is more likely to occur if there is skin damage, such as a scratch or sore.

What does ringworm look like in dogs?

In dogs, ringworm has a number of different appearances, most often areas of hair loss with a crusty covering, or (rarely) may be asymptomatic. Patches of ringworm may look like a grey, scaly patch in some dogs, but more like a red lesion in others. You may see some hair loss or patches of broken hair. But lots of other (more common) skin conditions look very similar.

Young, elderly, or long-haired dogs are more commonly affected.

Generally, ringworm lesions appear on dogs’ paws, legs, head and ears, but they can appear on any part of the body.

Diagnosing ringworm in dogs

If you think your dog has ringworm, you will need to take them to the vet as they will need treatment to cure it and stop it from spreading to people and other pets in your family.

There are a few methods that vets use to diagnose ringworm. Your vet may use an ultraviolet lamp to look at your dog’s fur and skin. This is because some types of ringworm will show up under this type of light.

Your vet will most likely look at a sample of your dog’s fur under a microscope to see if they can spot the fungus. They might also take a sample from your dog’s skin and place it in a dish to see if it will grow under lab conditions. This is the most reliable test but it takes 10 days to give results.

old ringworm dog

How is ringworm in dogs treated?

After confirming that your dog is suffering from ringworm, your vet will use medication to treat your dog.

Depending on the type of ringworm your dog has and how severe it is, they may give your dog tablets to take that will stop the ringworm from reproducing.

Your dog may need a topical medication (something that is applied to the skin) for eg a lotion or a shampoo. Follow the instructions carefully and make sure you treat your dog as needed as failure to do so risks infection recurring.

Some dogs may need both tablets and topical medication to cure their ringworm infection.

Can you get ringworm from your dog?

Yes, ringworm is contagious to people and is caught through touching an infected dog. You cannot catch ringworm if your skin is unbroken, but if you have a scratch, graze, wound or suffer from a skin condition such as eczema, you may catch the infection.

People with weaker immune systems are more at risk of catching ringworm from dogs, including young children, elderly people, people undergoing chemotherapy or treatment involving transplants or transfusions. We recommend that you don’t let children touch your dog if he or she has ringworm.

When treating your dog for ringworm, wear gloves and an apron. Note that some tablets should not be handled if you are pregnant.

If you haven’t picked up ringworm from your dog by the time your vet diagnoses them with it, then you probably won’t get it at all.

In people, ringworm lesions appear as a red circle on the skin; hence its name.

How do you keep ringworm from spreading?

Ringworm spores are hardy and can live in the environment for a long time, so it’s really important that you restrict your infected dog to one room while treating them so that spores are not spread through the house. If you cure your dog of ringworm but don’t eradicate it from your home, your dog could become infected again.

Soft furnishings and carpets should be vacuumed thoroughly and frequently, or steam cleaned, to remove the spores.

The vacuum bag should be emptied afterwards and the contents burnt.

Other items should be cleaned with a disinfectant.

Discuss with your vet which disinfectants are effective.

Bedding and toys that cannot be cleaned are best burnt.

— Page last updated 22/05/2023