Despite what you might think, ringworm isn’t actually a worm at all. Instead, it is a type of fungal infection that causes scaly bald patches in steadily growing rings. When it occurs in humans, there is also a ring of raised, irritated tissue around the infection, which is where ringworm got its name. It can also be called athlete’s foot if it’s on the feet or jock itch if it’s found on the groin.
While ringworm is not fatal, it is an uncomfortable condition that can cause your dog to lose its fur and may infect you as well. Puppies and senior dogs are the most seriously affected age groups. They can develop body-wide ringworm infections if they don’t receive treatment.
There are several types of fungus that cause ringworm, but they can all be treated the same way. Since ringworm is a fungus, it requires specific treatments to resolve the infection. Ringworm can come back if you aren’t careful, so it is important to be thorough when treating this problem and caring for your dog afterward.
Ringworm Remedies and Treatments
There are two types of treatments for ringworm: topical and oral. Because ringworm lives on top of the skin and is easily reached with ointments or creams, topical treatments are generally done first. However, for more serious cases or for dogs that regularly get ringworm, oral medication is also sometimes used.
Here are some ways to treat your dog’s ringworm:
Wash Your Dog With Antifungal Shampoo
Ringworm makes the fur in the infected area more fragile and vulnerable to breaking. Ringworm spores live in these broken hairs, so they are highly infectious.
If your dog has been exposed to ringworm, you can use over-the-counter antifungal shampoos or dips to potentially stop the infection in its tracks. Every antifungal shampoo has its own instructions, but in general, it works best when used at least twice a week. If your dog’s veterinarian has given you other instructions, be sure to follow those.
Apply Antifungal Creams or Ointments
For localized, smaller ringworm infections, antifungal creams and ointments are a good option.
These topical solutions can be applied to a specific spot more effectively than shampoos. They can also help reduce the contagiousness of the ringworm patch.
You can ask your pet’s veterinarian for their recommended over-the-counter antifungal creams, or they may suggest a prescription ointment. Either way, you will likely need to apply the topical treatment for at least six weeks, if not more.
Shave the Area Around the Infection
Since ringworm spores live on and in broken hairs, you may be able to reduce its spread by trimming the fur around your dog’s ringworm infection.
Trimming the fur close to the skin reduces the chances of shedding or breaking hairs. As a result, it reduces the risk of spreading infectious materials around the home and causing another ringworm outbreak later. Some dermatologists recommend this practice, although others may not. Ask your dog’s veterinarian if this is a worthwhile treatment for your dog.
Vacuum and Wash Bedding Frequently
Since ringworm is so infectious, it’s important to keep your home as clean as possible. Ringworm spores can remain potentially infectious for months after they are shed.
When treating your pet or yourself for ringworm, you should vacuum frequently to remove shedded fur and skin cells from your home. You should also wash their bedding and toys frequently.
Keep Affected Pets Quarantined
Your dog can shed ringworm spores anywhere they are allowed to go. To give yourself a better chance of keeping the infection contained, keep any animals with ringworm confined to places that are easy to clean. Keep other pets away from the infected animal as much as possible to reduce the risk of spreading the fungus.
Since ringworm can be transmitted to humans, you should be careful as well. Keep older people, young children, and anyone with skin problems or a weakened immune system away from your dog as long as it has ringworm. While it may be difficult to keep your pet quarantined for the six weeks or longer it takes to cure ringworm, it will be simpler than fighting ringworm repeatedly.
When to See a Veterinarian
If you believe your dog may have ringworm, always contact your veterinarian. Ringworm can be mistaken for other skin problems, including irritated tick bites or Lyme d isease. Your vet will help identify the cause of the problem and give you advice for treating your pet effectively.
If you decide to treat your dog’s ringworm on your own, reach out to a vet if the infection seems to be spreading or getting worse so they can prescribe oral antifungal medication. The sooner you begin treatment for ringworm under the guidance of a veterinarian, the less likely you are to catch ringworm yourself—and the sooner your pet will be cured.