Recognizing and treating ringworm in dogs

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Every dog owner should be aware of the skin condition known as ringworm. What is ringworm? Despite its name, ringworm is a dog skin fungus and is not related to worms at all. The fungus is Microsporum canis. The infection caused by this fungus is zoonotic, meaning that it can cross species and infect cats and humans as well as dogs. Ringworm grows on the surface of the skin. Since ringworm is a contagious condition, it should be treated as soon as its symptoms are detected.

Ringworm Symptoms

Ringworm symptoms usually occur about 10 days after exposure to the fungus. Ringworm in dogs, cats and humans is characterized by circular lesions on the skin. In dogs, the lesions are hairless, since the fungus infects hair follicles and causes the hair to fall out. As the condition progresses, the lesions will grow in size and become scaly. Sometimes, the lesions are itchy and the skin may become reddened and inflamed. Canine ringworm lesions commonly occur on the face, ears, paws and tail.

Ringworm is found most often in young dogs or in mature dogs with weakened immune systems. Disease (such as canine diabetes), pre-existing skin conditions or trauma can weaken a dog's immune system and increase its susceptibility to ringworm.

Ringworm Treatment and Prevention

If left untreated, ringworm will run its course in a few weeks. However, ringworm treatment is a good idea in order to reduce discomfort from symptoms and avoid infecting humans and other animals

A diagnosis of ringworm should be made by a veterinarian before treatment is undertaken, since mange and other skin conditions may be mistaken for ringworm. A vet will use a fungal culture to make a positive diagnosis.

Once diagnosed, there are several treatments available for ringworm. Anti-fungal drugs, such as Griseofulvin, inhibit the spread of ringworm, but may cause undesired side effects including immune system suppression. Lime sulfur dips are a recommended treatment, but should only be carried out under a vet's instructions. Medicated anti-fungal dog shampoos and lotions are also effective in combating ringworm in dogs.

An infected dog should be quarantined either inside or outside until the symptoms of ringworm disappear. Fungus spores can be spread throughout the living environment, and may re-infect the animal following ringworm treatment. For this reason, it's important to clean exposed living areas with bleach. Fabrics with which the dog has come in contact should also be washed with bleach. When cleaning and washing with bleach, a dilution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water should be used. The veterinarian may suggest additional preventive measures.

By Catie Watson

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