Ringworm: Could my child get it from our dog?

My six-month-old daughter was diagnosed with ring worm on the scalp, and one of the possible reasons could be our dog. Are tests or treatments available for the dog to determine if she is the cause?

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Robert Steele

Robert W. Steele, MD, is a board certified pediatrician at St. John's Regional Health Center in Springfield, MO. He graduated from medical... Read more

Ringworm, tinea capitis, or dermatophytosis is an infection of the hair and hair follicles caused by certain types of fungi. These fungi can affect many species of animals and also humans. Ringworm doesn't just affect kids, it can be found on cats and dogs as well. And since kids and pets are often playing and sleeping together, this infection can be passed from animal to child rather readily.

Many pets will develop characteristic skin and fur manifestations of the disease. However, a large proportion of them may have little or no obvious symptoms. The most common symptom in the pet who has ringworm is hair loss or at least hair breakage. In the pet without obvious hair loss, careful inspection of the fur may show short, coarse hairs with mildly red skin underneath the coat.

When ringworm is caused by the cat or dog, the most common responsible fungus is called Microsporum canis. This is an interesting fungus in that it often glows when a special fluorescent light called a Wood's lamp is cast upon it. The most accurate way to detect this particular fungus is by taking a culture of the area on the child or pet. However, a quick way to get a good idea that this fungus is the culprit is by putting the child in a dark room and shining a Wood's lamp (found in most pediatric offices) on him looking for fluorescent spots on the body.

The first step in figuring out if the pet is the source of your daughter's ringworm is identifying the exact fungus causing it. If it is a fungus commonly found on pets, then the animals ought to be tested. There are certainly treatment options for the pets which your veterinarian could discuss with you. But you will also need to address the environment which may contain the fungal spores. The pet's bedding and environment will need to be cleaned using a bleach containing disinfectant. Just as it takes many weeks to clear ringworm of the scalp in a child, eradicating the ringworm of the pet can also be time consuming often taking several months.

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