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Isolation of Microsporum canis from the hair coat of

pet dogs and cats belonging to owners diagnosed


with M. canis tinea corporis
Blackwell Publishing Ltd

Claudia Cafarchia*, Diana Romito*,


Gioia Capelli, Jacques Guillot and
Domenico Otranto*
*Dipartimento di Sanit e Benessere Animale, Facolt di Medicina
Veterinaria, Strada Provinciale per Casamassima km 3, 70010
Valenzano, Bari, Italy
Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle Venezie, Legnaro-Padova
Service de Parasitologie-Mycologie, Ecole Nationale Vtrinaire
dAlfort, France
Correspondence: Otranto Domenico, Dipartimento di Sanit
e Benessere Animale, Facolt di Medicina Veterinaria, Str. prov.le
per Casamassima Km, 3, 70010, Valenzano, Bari, Italy.
Tel: +39080 4679839; Fax: +39080 4679839;
E-mail: d.otranto@veterinaria.uniba.it

What is known about the topic of this paper


Microsporum canis is the most common dermatophyte
found on dogs and cats.
It has also been frequently isolated in human cases
of tinea capitis and tinea corporis.
The infection may be acquired from infected animals
with cutaneous lesions but also from asymptomatic
carriers or from the environment where infective
arthroconidia survive for a long time.
What this paper adds to the field of veterinary
dermatology
The present investigation studied the relationship
between the presence of dermatophytes in the
haircoats of dogs and cats without cutaneous lesions
and the occurrence of the disease in their respective
owners.
It represents an important issue considering that
asymptomatic M. canis carriers are considered to be
a critical factor in the epidemiology of dermatophytosis
in humans.

Abstract
Microsporum canis has been frequently isolated from
human cases of tinea capitis and tinea corporis. The
infection may be acquired from infected animals with
cutaneous lesions but also from asymptomatic carriers or from the environment. As asymptomatic M.
canis carriers are considered to be a critical factor in
the epidemiology of dermatophytosis in humans, this
study investigated the relationship between the presence of dermatophytes on the hair coats of dogs and
cats without cutaneous lesions and the occurrence of
the disease in their respective owners. A total of 136
dogs and 248 cats were sampled from January 1999 to

January 2005. Seventy-eight animals (22 dogs and 56


cats) belonged to individuals affected by tinea corporis
caused by M. canis and 306 (114 dogs and 192 cats) to
individuals without dermatophytosis. Age, sex, breed,
habitat and season were recorded for each animal and
examined as potential risk factors. Dermatophytes
were isolated from 20.5% of the dogs and 28.2% of
the cats. Microsporum canis was isolated from 36.4%
of dogs cohabiting with owners diagnosed with tinea
corporis but it was never isolated from dogs whose
owners had no lesions. By contrast, M. canis was
isolated from 53.6% of cats cohabiting with owners
diagnosed with tinea corporis and from 14.6% of
cats whose owners had no signs of the disease. These
results clearly indicate that both cats and dogs should
be considered as a major source of pathogenic dermatophytes for humans even when they do not present
clinical signs of dermatophytosis.
Accepted 14 June 2006

Introduction
Dermatophytosis is a common infection of keratinized
tissues (e.g. skin, nails and hair) characterized by multifocal alopecia, scaling and circular lesions. Microsporum and
Trichophyton species are responsible for infections in
animals and Microsporum canis is the most commonly
isolated dermatophyte from dogs and cats with or without
cutaneous lesions.14 Microsporum gypseum, Trichophyton terrestre and Trichophyton ajelloi are geophilic dermatophytes mainly isolated from dogs and cats without
lesions;2,5 however, the pathogenic role of these geophilic
species is still a matter of controversy. The transmission
of M. canis occurs via infective arthrospores present on
the hair coats of dogs and cats or in the environment.1
Humans may be infected, and M. canis has become the
most frequently encountered zoonotic dermatophyte in
urban areas.6,7
The prevalence of M. canis infections in humans differs
from one country to another.8 In Italy, it is the most common dermatophyte isolated from tinea capitis and tinea
corporis cases.9,10 This may be explained by the great
number of dogs and cats kept as pets in this country.911
Asymptomatic animal carriers of M. canis are considered
to be a critical factor in the epidemiology of the disease as
50% of humans exposed to infected asymptomatic animals, especially cats, may become infected.12 The preva-

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327

Cafarchia et al.

lence of dermatophytosis in animals with skin lesions is


usually reported to be higher in cats than in dogs,13,14 and
M. canis is responsible for more than 85% of feline and
75% of canine dermatophyte lesions.3,13,14 In cases of
geophilic dermatophytes, the source of infection is the soil
and dogs are considered to be more susceptible to infections than cats.15
The present study was designed to investigate the prevalence of M. canis culture-positive asymptomatic dogs
and cats cohabiting with owners diagnosed with M. canis
tinea corporis and compare this to a control population of
dogs and cats cohabiting with owners without dermatophytosis. In addition, this study evaluated age, sex, breed,
habitat and season as potential risk factors associated
with isolation of dermatophyte organisms from the hair
coat of dogs and cats without cutaneous lesions.

Table 1. Dermatophyte species isolated from asymptomatic dogs


and cats living in the province of Bari, Southern Italy
Dermatophytes

Dogs
(n = 136)

Cats
(n = 248)

Total

Microsporum canis
Microsporum gypseum
Trichophyton terrestre
Trichophyton ajelloi
Total

8 (5.9%)
10 (7.4%)
12 (8.8%)
0
28* (20.5%)

58 (23.4%)
4 (1.6%)
6 (2.4%)
2 (0.8%)
70 (28.2%)

66 (17.2%)
14 (3.6%)
18 (4.7%)
2 (0.5%)
98* (25.5%)

*Two dogs were positive for two dermatophyte species (M. canis and
M. gypseum).

Table 2. Prevalence of Microsporum canis isolated from the hair coat


of asymptomatic dogs and cats cohabiting with owners diagnosed
with Microsporum canis dermatophytosis (group A) and owners
without dermatophytosis (group B)

Materials and methods


Study population
From January 1999 to January 2005, 136 dogs and 248 cats were
selected for dermatophyte culture. All dogs and cats included in the
study were from the province of Bari (Apulia, Southern Italy) and were
examined and sampled at private veterinary facilities or at the Faculty
of Veterinary Medicine (University of Bari, Italy). Animals lived in urban
(centre of a large city) and in rural (village or countryside) areas where
they were allowed to range freely. Exclusively, dogs and cats that
were the only animal in a household were included in the study. Moreover, at the time of examination and sampling, the animals had to be
free of cutaneous lesions, had no history of dermatophytosis in the
previous few months and presented negative test results for feline
immunodeficiency virus and feline leukaemia virus (cats) and ehrlichiosis and leishmaniosis (dogs).
Owners of dogs and cats selected for sampling were asked
whether any member of the family had been diagnosed with dermatophytosis by fungal culture. In the case of an affirmative answer, owners were asked to present the medical report. In all cases, the
diagnosis was tinea corporis caused by M. canis. Based on this information, the dogs and cats were divided into two groups: group A comprised 22 dogs and 56 cats cohabiting with owners diagnosed with
tinea corporis caused by M. canis and group B consisted of 114 dogs
and 192 cats cohabiting with owners without dermatophytosis.

Group B

8/22 (36.4%)
30/56 (53.6%)
38/78 (49%)

0/114 (0%)
28/192 (14.6%)
28/306 (9%)

Statistical analysis
Differences of M. canis prevalence in groups A and B were tested by
Fisher exact test. Epidemiological data from dogs and cats were analysed separately using multivariate logistic regression models19 to
evaluate risk factors associated with the presence of dermatophytes.
Significant risk factors were presented as odds ratio (OR) and 95%
confidence interval (CI). For statistical purposes, only prevalences
higher than 10% were considered. Consequently, in logistic regression the dependent variables were positive cultures (yes/no) for M.
canis in cats and positive cultures for geophilic dermatophytes in
dogs. Independent variables were the data listed in Tables 3 and 4.
Co-linearity among independent variables was controlled using the
Pearson correlation coefficient. None of the variables presented a
high correlation (correlation coefficients less than 0.38) so all epidemiological data were introduced into the model. All data were analysed
using SPSS for Windows (version 12.01, SPSS, Inc., Chicago, IL,
USA). A P < 0.05 was considered significant.

Results

Epidemiological data collected


The age, sex, breed and habitat (rural or urban) of the animals were
recorded. In order to evaluate seasonal trends in dermatophyte infections, the sampling period was divided into: spring (March to May),
summer (June to August), autumn (September to November) and
winter (December to February).

Sampling procedures
Hair samples were collected using the brush technique.16 Each animal
was entirely brushed using an 8 cm diameter plastic brush for at least
3 min starting from the head followed by the neck, dorsum, trunk,
ventrum, limbs and tail. After specimen collection, the brush was
placed in its original package and transported as soon as possible to
the laboratory for dermatophyte culture.

Fungal culture
Fungal cultures were performed by pressing the bristles of the brush
onto 90 mm Petri dishes containing Sabouraud agar with chloramphenicol (0.5%) and actidione (0.4%) (Liofilchem Diagnostici,
Roseto degli Abruzzi, Italy) and incubated at 25 C for 15 days. Colonies grown in the medium were identified to species based on their
morphology and microscopic characteristic of the hyphae, macroconidia and microconidia as described by Rebell and Taplin17 and de
Hoog.18

328

Dogs
Cats
Total

Group A

Dermatophytes were isolated from 20.5% (28/136) of the


dogs and 28.2% (70/248) of the cats cultured positive for
dermatophytes. Microsporum canis was the species most
frequently found in the cat coats, whereas T. terrestre
and M. gypseum (geophilic dermatophytes) were most
frequently isolated from the hair coats of dogs (Table 1).
Microsporum canis was isolated from 36.4% (8/22) of
dogs cohabiting with owners diagnosed with M. canis
dermatophytosis but it was never (0/114) isolated from
dogs whose owners had no skin lesions (Table 2). This
difference was statistically different (P < 0.0001). By contrast, M. canis was isolated from 53.6% (30/56) of cats cohabiting with owners with M. canis dermatophytosis and
from 14.6% (28/192) of cats cohabiting with healthy owners
(Table 2). This difference was significant (P < 0.0001).
Potential risk factors for isolation of M. canis and
geophilic dermatophytes from the hair coats of dogs and
cats without cutaneous lesions are listed in Tables 3
and 4. Age (OR = 3.208; CI = 1.8035.707), habitat
(OR = 3.380; CI = 1.9135.972), and sampling period

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Pets as source of Microsporum canis infection to humans

Table 3. Prevalence of Microsporum canis isolated from the hair coat


of asymptomatic dogs and cats according to sex, age, breed, habitat
and season
Dogs
Sex
Female
Male
Age
< 1 years
15 years
> 5 years
Breed
Cross-breed
Pure breed
Habitat
Urban
Rural
Season
Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter

Table 4. Prevalence of geophilic dermatophyte species isolated from


the hair coat of asymptomatic dogs and cats according to sex, age,
breed, habit and season

Cats

4/80 (5.0%)
4/56 (7.1%)

32/128 (25.0%)
26/120 (21.7%)

0/44 (0%)
4/48 (8.3%)
4/44 (9.1%)

26/82 (31.6%)
18/92 (19.5%)
14/74 (18.9%)

2/68 (2.9%)
6/68 (8.8%)

26/94 (27.7%)
32/154 (20.8%)

4/36 (11.1%)
4/100 (4.0%)

4/98 (4.1%)
54/150 (36.0%)

2/30 (6.6%)
4/28 (14.3%)
0/68 (0%)
2/10 (20.0%)

18/116 (15.5%)
4/52 (7.7%)
21/53 (39.6%)
15/27 (55.6%)

Dogs
Sex
Female
Male
Age*
< 1 years
15 years
> 5 years
Breed
Cross-breed
Pure breed
Habitat
Urban
Rural
Season
Spring
Summer
Fall
Winter

Cats

14/80 (17.5%)
8/56 (14.2%)

0/128 (0%)
10/120 (8.3%)

14/44 (31.8%)
4/48 (8.3%)
2/44 (4.5%)

4/82 (4.9%)
6/92 (6.5%)
0/74 (0%)

2/68 (2.9%)
20/68 (29.4%)

6/94 (6.4%)
4/154 (2.6%)

2/36 (5.5%)
20/100 (20.0%)

2/150 (1.3%)
8/98 (8.2%)

4/30 (13.3%)
6/28 (21.4%)
12/68 (17.6%)
0/10 (0%)

6/116 (5.2%)
2/52 (3.8%)
2/53 (3.8%)
0/27 (0%)

*Age has not been reported for two dogs and for two cats.

(OR = 4.233; CI = 1.956 9.160) proved to act as predisposing factors for M. canis carriage in cats (P < 0.001),
whereas age (OR = 2.503; CI = 1.204 5.202) and breed
(OR = 3.208; CI = 1.496 6.878) were risk factors for
geophilic dermatophyte infections in dogs (P < 0.001). In
other words, cats living in a rural environment and those
< 1 year of age sampled in the winter months were more
likely to carry M. canis, whereas no differences were
observed according to sex or breed. Dogs < 1 year of age
and pure breed dogs showed a higher prevalence of
geophilic species carriage than other dogs (Table 4). No
geophilic dermatophytes were isolated from female cats
or from cats older than 5 years nor were they isolated from
dogs or cats in the winter months.

Discussion
The role of cats as asymptomatic carriers of M. canis has
been extensively described by many investigatiors8,20 and
cats are now recognized as major sources of infection
to other animals and their owners. The role of cats in
human infection may be related to the greater number of
spores shed in the environment by infected cats than that
shed by dogs.12 The present study clearly indicated that
asymptomatic dogs could also carry pathogenic dermatophytes (M. canis and geophilic species) on their hair coats.
Microsporum canis was more frequently isolated from the
hair coats of dogs and cats cohabiting with owners diagnosed with M. canis tinea corporis. However, it was also
present on the hair coat of some cats cohabiting with
healthy owners but they were never isolated from dogs
living with healthy owners. These results seem to indicate
that many dogs examined in the present study were not
responsible for the transmission of M. canis to humans,
and suggest that cats were the source of transmission
of M. canis to humans. When M. canis was detected
on the coat of asymptomatic dogs, their owners consistently had M. canis tinea corporis. However, when dog
owners had dermatophytosis, the dogs were more
frequently culture negative (14 dogs) than culture positive

(8 dogs). These results suggest that M. canis had been


acquired from a common source or had been transmitted
from the owners to their dogs.
The finding of culture-positive cats cohabiting with owners with no cutaneous lesions is also of interest. In particular, the fact that all of these cats, with the exception of
two, lived in rural areas and had access to the outdoors
indicates that this lifestyle represents a risk factor for
culture-positive status. The detection of M. canis in several
owners whose pets did not carry dermatophyte arthroconidia may indicate that the infection occurred through
contact with another animal or an environmental source.
In the present study, age, habitat, and sampling period
were predisposing factors for M. canis carriage in cats.
The high prevalence of M. canis infection in young
animals has been extensively documented in previous
investigations3,13,14,21 while there is evidence that adult
animals and long-haired cats from catteries with endemic
dermatophytosis are frequently asymptomatic carriers.22,23 In this study, cats younger than 1 year of age and
cats sampled in the winter months carried M. canis
more frequently than adult cats and cats sampled during
other seasons. It is possible that some of the young,
culture-positive cats sampled during the winter eventually
developed cutaneous lesions after the sampling date. This
hypothesis is supported by previous findings showing that
in the same area of southern Italy the highest prevalence
of M. canis carriage was in the winter months for dogs and
cats, whereas skin lesions caused by dermatophytes
occurred in the summer and fall months.3 Seasonality
might play a relevant role on host receptivity and M. canis
pathogenicity, which may explain differences in prevalence of dermatophyte isolation or infection according to
seasons.
Interestingly from an ecological standpoint, M. canis
infections are considered to be mycoses with an urban
cycle3,24 and animals living in urbanized areas usually
develop lesions.3 The present study showed a high prevalence of M. canis carriage in cats living in rural areas and

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Cafarchia et al.

this may be explained by the presence of M. canis in wild


animals,25,26 suggesting that most cats allowed to range
freely are likely to increase their risk for infection.
The high prevalence of geophilic dermatophytes on dog
coats may be explained by the warm climate of southern
Italy which affects the viability of these species as well as
the susceptibility of the hosts.3,15 Age and breed proved to
be predisposing factors for geophilic dermatophyte infections in dogs; however, the high prevalence of geophilic
dermatophytes in pure breeds (e.g. German sheep dog,
Italian Bracco) might be attributed to their lifestyle rather
than to bred susceptibility factors. Almost half of the
examined pure breed dogs lived outdoors and geophilic
dermatophytes were isolated only from these animals.
Although the results did not attain statistical significance,
the most frequent carriers of geophilic dermatophytes
were male cats younger than 5 years of age living in rural
areas. A likely explanation for this is that younger animals
(dogs and cats), especially males, tend to live outdoors in
rural areas, and contact with the soil exposes them to fungal transmission from this source.3,13,14 Geophilic dermatophyte carriage was high in the summer months for dogs
and spring months for cats, whereas none of these
species was isolated in the winter months, in agreement
with previous findings.3 In the winter months the frozen
state of the soil or the prolonged rainfalls and excessive
moisture of the soil may minimize the likelihood of close
contact between hosts and natural reservoir for infection.15
In summary, the results of this investigation demonstrated that not only cats, but also dogs, living in Southern
Italy carry dermatophyte arthroconidia in their hair coat
while remaining asymptomatic. The risk of M. canis transmission to owners from asymptomatic cats was higher
than from asymptomatic dogs. Moreover, the factors influencing the carrier role of pets were not the same for dogs
and cats.

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Rsum Microsporum canis a frquemment t isol des cas tinea capitis et de tinea corporis chez
lhomme. Linfection peut tre acquise partir dun animal infect avec des lsions cutanes, mais galement partir dun porteur asymptomatique ou de lenvironnement. Comme les porteurs asymptomatiques
sont considrs critiques dans lpidmiologie des dermatophytoses humaines, cette tude sest
intresse la relation entre la prsence de dermatophytes sur le pelage de chiens et de chats sans lsion
cutane et lapparition de lsions chez leurs propritaires. Au total, 136 chiens et 248 chats ont t prlevs
entre janvier 1999 et janvier 2005. Soixante dix huit animaux (22 chiens et 56 chats) appartenaient des
330

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Pets as source of Microsporum canis infection to humans

propritaires souffrant de tinea corporis due M. canis et 306 (114 chiens et 192 chats) des propritaires
sans dermatophytose. Lge, le sexe, la race, lhabitat et la saison ont t tudies pour chaque animal et
examins comme risque potentiel. Des dermatophytes ont t isols de 20.5% des chiens et 28.2% des
chats. M. canis a t isol de 36.4% des chiens cohabitant avec un propritaire prsentant une tinea corporis
mais jamais chez les chiens dont les propritaires ne prsentaient pas de lsion. A loppos, M. canis a
t isol de 53.6% des chats cohabitant avec un propritaire souffrant de tinea corporis et de 14.6% des
chats dont le propritaire ne prsentait pas de lsion. Ces rsultats indiquent clairement que chiens et chats
doivent tre considrs comme des sources majeures de dermatophytes pathognes pour lhumain, mme
sans signe clinique de dermatophytose.
Resumen Microsporum canis se ha aislado con frecuencia en casos humanos de tinea capitis y tinea
corporis. La infeccin puede adquirirse de animales infectados y con lesiones cutneas, pero tambin de
portadores asintomticos o del ambiente. Ya que los portadores asintomticos de M. canis se consideran
un factor crtico en la epidemiologa de la dermatofitosis humana, en este estudio investigamos la relacin
entre la presencia de dermatofitos en el pelo de perros y gatos sin lesiones cutneas, y la presencia de la
enfermedad en los respectivos dueos. Se tomaron muestras de un total de 136 perros y 248 gatos entre
Enero de 1999 y Enero del 2005. Setenta y ocho animales (22 perros y 56 gatos) pertenecieron a dueos
afectados con tinea corporis causada por M. canis y 306 (114 perros y 192 gatos) a individuos sin dermatofitosis. Edad, gnero, raza, habitat y estacin se anotaron para cada animal y se examinaron como potenciales
factores de riesgo. Se aislaron dermatofitos de un 20.5% de los perros y de un 28.2% de los gatos. M. canis
se aisl de un 36.4% de los perros conviviendo con dueos diagnosticados con tinea corporis, pero nunca
se aisl en perros cuyos dueos no tenan lesiones. En contraste, M. canis se aisl de un 53.6% de gatos
conviviendo con propietarios diagnosticados con tinea corporis y de un 14.6% de gatos cuyos propietarios
no presentaron enfermedad. Estos resultados claramente demuestran que tanto perros como gatos deben
ser considerados una fuente importante de dermatofitos patgenos para humanos, incluso si no presentan
signos clnicos de dermatofitosis.
Zusammenfassung Microsporum canis wurde hufig bei humanen Fllen von Tinea capitis und Tinea
corporis isoliert. Die Infektion kann von einem infizierten Tier mit Hautlsionen stammen, kann aber
auch von asymptomatischen Trgern oder aus der Umgebung kommen. Da asymptomatische M. canis
Trger als kritische Faktoren bei der Epidemiologie von Dermatophytosen beim Menschen betrachtet
werden, wurde in dieser Studie der Zusammenhang zwischen dem Vorhandensein von Dermatophyten im
Haarkleid von Hunden und Katzen ohne kutane Vernderungen und dem Auftreten der Erkrankung bei
den jeweiligen Besitzern untersucht. Insgesamt wurden von Jnner 1999 bis Jnner 2005 Proben von 136
Hunden und 248 Katzen genommen. Siebenundachtzig Tiere (22 Hunde und 56 Katzen) gehrten Personen, die
an Tinea corporis verursacht durch M. canis, litten und 306 (114 Hunde und 192 Katzen) gehrten Individuen
ohne Dermatophytose. Alter, Geschlecht, Rasse, Haltung und Jahreszeit wurden fr jedes Tier festgehalten
und als mgliche Risikofaktoren untersucht. Dermatophyten wurden bei 20.5% der Hunde und 28.2% der
Katzen isoliert. M. canis wurde bei 36.4% der Hunde isoliert, die mit Besitzern lebten, bei denen Tinea
corporis diagnostiziert worden war. M. canis wurde aber nie bei Hunden isoliert, deren Besitzer keine
Hautlsionen zeigten. Im Gegensatz dazu wurde M. canis bei 53.6% der Katzen isoliert, die bei Besitzern
mit diagnostizierter Tinea corporis lebten und bei 14.6% der Katzen, deren Besitzer keine Anzeichen der
Krankheit aufwiesen. Diese Ergebnisse zeigen deutlich, dass sowohl Katzen als auch Hunde eine bedeutende Quelle fr pathogene Dermatophyten fr den Menschen darstellen, auch wenn sie keine klinischen
Anzeichen von Dermatophytose aufweisen.

2006 The Authors. Journal compilation 2006 European Society of Veterinary Dermatology.

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