Mystery dog injury leads to scary speculations

“What’s that?” Derek asked as he knelt down beside our dog Oreo, who was rolling around on the living room carpet.

Registering the alarm in Derek’s voice, I quickly rose from the  couch and rushed over to where he was now holding Oreo’s back legs.

“What is that?” I echoed, as I looked closely at the ugly red sore on Oreo’s stomach.

Instantly I felt a stab of guilt. How had I not noticed that earlier?

Oreo began to wiggle, and Derek let him go.

On a Sunday night, with the veterinary office closed, there wasn’t much we could do except worry and do some research. Derek called his mother and brother, both longtime dog owners, while I researched canine skin diseases on the internet.

The sore was round, quarter-sized and puffed up. Gross, I know. But more-so, it was alarming.

“Ringworm?” Derek offered.

I looked it up. Yes, perhaps it was ringworm, a fungal infection that invades the hair follicles of dogs and causes red circles on the skin.

Derek ended the call with his mother, and so I read aloud from petMD: “Ringworm is transmitted by spores in the soil and by contact with the infected hair of dogs and cats, typically found on carpets, brushes, combs, toys and furniture. Humans can acquire ringworm from pets and vice versa.”

Derek quickly walked out of the room with an uncomfortable look on his face. I heard the faucet running in the kitchen. He was washing his hands.

All of the sudden, it seemed a wise decision for us to both run out of the house. But we couldn’t abandon poor Oreo. No, we’d stick it out. But out of morbid curiosity, I googled photos of people with ringworm. Bad idea. My skin began to itch.

“Ringworm by itself is not an itchy condition,” I read.

My skin stopped itching.

I paused in reading the rather terrifying article on ringworm to take a deep breath and look at the facts.

A few things didn’t quite fit. Ringworm typically appears on the face, ears, paws and tail, according to petMD, and Oreo only had one sore on his stomach. Plus, none of the photos I saw of ringworm showed it being puffed up like Oreo’s sore.

OK. So maybe it wasn’t ringworm.

“What did your brother say?” I asked as Derek hung up from his second phone call.

“That he hopes it’s not mange,” Derek replied in his typical matter-of-fact tone.

“That doesn’t sound good,” I said as I typed “mange” into the search engine.

It wasn’t good. Mange is an inflammatory disease in dogs caused by mites inhabiting hair follicles and skin. It leads to lesions, genetic disorders, problems with the immune system and hair loss. But in looking at the photos, mange looked nothing like Oreo’s sore.

We were getting nowhere. Diagnosing Oreo would have to wait for the veterinary clinic — in the morning.

Have you ever gotten sick in the evening, after your family doctor’s office is closed, and you know it’s not serious enough for a costly visit to the emergency room? Then you know the feeling of having to “make it through the night.” It’s not a good feeling. And I think it’s even worse when it’s your dog.

We could only think of one thing to do: give him Benadryl, one of the over-the-counter human medications that are OK for dogs. Benadryl would help Oreo sleep, and if the sore was some sort of allergic reaction, it would help him with that, too.

We looked up the correct dosage, double checked it, triple checked it, then gave Oreo two pills before going to bed.

I was on the phone as soon as the veterinary clinic opened at 8 a.m., and luckily, they could squeeze Oreo in at 8:40 a.m., leaving me just enough time to pack a bag of treats — something with which to distract Oreo in the event of a barking fit.

The appointment was short and, well, a bit loud. Oreo did have a barking fit, which began when I didn’t allow him to “play” with a tiny puppy in the waiting room. But anyway, the important news: the dog doctor took one look at the sore and said that it was a common infection. He could see a small puncture wound at the center of the sore.

“A puncture wound?”

I thought back over the last few days. Oreo plays outside in the yard for hours each day.

“Come to think of it, there was one time a few days ago that we heard him yelp while he was running around the yard,” I said (or something along those lines). “We thought we saw him step on a stick. Or maybe … ”

“It could have been caused any number of ways,” the dog doctor said.

He was right — and he probably didn’t have time to listen to me turn my dog’s injury into a game of Clue, canine edition. (Who? Oreo. Where? Under the lilac bush. With what weapon? An especially sharp stick.)

“It’s not ringworm?” I blurted out, thus confirming my role as overbearing mother hen.

No, it wasn’t ringworm, he assured me.

Oreo, an 11-month-old pit bull mix, waits patiently for a pepperoni-disguised antibiotic pill on Aug. 29, 2013, at his home in Brewer. He was prescribed the medication after visiting the veterinarian with an infected sore on his stomach.

Oreo and I left the clinic with a bottle of antibiotics and instructions to stop by a pharmacy for a triple-antibiotic cream.

A sigh of relief. The sore was not the ugly tip of an even uglier iceberg. No skin disease. No internal malady. Just an infection, one that I tended with care and is now healing right up.

If you have a story or advice to offer about injuries that dogs can sustain in the outdoors, send an email to Or simply leave your story or advice in the comment section at the bottom of this page!

Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at