Extreme itchy and irritated skin with a foul odour can indicate a yeast infection. This is a very common problem in particularly dry-fed dogs today.
Yeast infections in dogs are highly uncomfortable and over time they can cause severe damage to the affected areas. Knowing how to treat yeast infections in dogs is thus a must for pet owners. Luckily there are lots we can do!
In this article, you will learn:
- What Is a Yeast Infection In Dogs?
- Common Areas Prone To Yeast Infection
- Difference Between The Symptoms Of Yeast Infection And Ear Mites
- Dog Breeds Prone To Yeast Infections
What Is a Yeast Infection In Dogs?
Yeast (Malassezia) is a naturally occurring, spore-producing fungi that typically lives on your dogs’ skin without causing any harm. Usually, it is kept in check by a healthy skin and gut flora and robust immune system, but should something upset that harmonious balance, yeast can grow excessively in one particular area, leading to Malassezia Dermatitis or Yeast Dermatitis in dogs.
It follows that yeast infections are common in dogs with:
- compromised immunity resulting from chronic gut issues
- those suppressed by medications
- those consuming a poor diet (usually dry, chemically preserved, and high in carbohydrates).
It also occurs more often during warmer “allergy” seasons among dogs prescribed antibiotics resulting in impaired gut health.
What Are The Common Areas Of Dog Yeast Infection?
Yeast needs water and heat to grow. Hence, yeast infections in dogs generally occur in warm, moist areas or those that get exposed to the water more often and are more prone to remain wet or moist than other parts of the body, such as:
- Ear canals
- Skin folds (where the legs meet the body and around the face, neck, and groin)
- Anus and vulva
What Are The Symptoms of Yeast Infection In Dogs?
Yeast infections can share similarities with ear mites and some bacterial infections. That is why it’s best to obtain a diagnosis from a professional veterinarian via a quick, simple, non-invasive ear or skin swab. They will see the little yeast spores under the microscope.
Nevertheless, there are some specific signs and symptoms that you can look out for that will indicate yeast infection in your dog, such as:
1. Intense Itchiness
One of the first signs of yeast infection in dogs is their excessively itchy skin. Toxins from the yeast irritate the skin causing them to consistently scratch the infected areas, nibbling toes, biting or licking that area, even rubbing their bodies against the floor or furniture to relieve themselves.
2. Skin Irritation, Damage, and Inflammation (Usually around the ears, between the paw pads and vulva)
The infected skin becomes incredibly sensitive and changes its natural texture.
At the beginning of a yeast infection, the skin develops a pink or red rash. As they itch it can often leap to scrapes and even cuts around the affected areas which can turn grey or blackish as the dog continues to damage it.
The affected skin area can also get swollen, becoming leathery and thick, greasy, or oily.
3. Crusty or Flaky Skin
Some breeds of dogs get crusty or flaky skin in yeast infection rather than becoming oily. They develop scaling and flaking of the skin that looks similar to dandruff which also drives increased itching and scratching.
4. Ear Issues, Head-Shaking and Tilting
While less of an issue for dogs with erect ears (and wolves), most breeds of dogs now seem to have floppy or partically floppy ears. This is a nice, warm blanket over the ear canal. Hence, dog ears are most prone to yeast infections as they remain warm and moist more than any other part of the body.
Their ears become red and swollen with lots of pain which causes them to rub and scratch around their ears. This leads them to shake and tilt their heads excessively.
5. Dark Discharge
Yeast infection in dogs, especially in their ears, causes a stinky and waxy dark discharge. This discharge looks brown at the beginning and can become as dark as black if the infection becomes more chronic.
6. Nasty Odour
The biggest giveaway of yeast infection in dogs is the funky smell it produces. This distinct foul odour smells musty and cheesy, which is unseen in any other infections.
Other than the abovementioned signs, some dogs may also develop hair loss and drooling due to yeast infections in their skin.
What Is The Difference Between A Dog’s Yeast Infection And Ear Mites?
It might get a bit confusing since ear mites in dogs and yeast infections can share pretty similar symptoms.
Both cause dogs to be extremely itchy, shaking their heads or rubbing and causing redness around the ear canals. Both yeast infections and ear mites in dogs cause the discharge of dark waxy gunks.
However, yeast infections in dogs are not contagious like ear mites can be.
But yeast infections in dog ears mainly cause a nasty odour that is not present in ear mites. This sort of musty and cheesy smell can be your determiner to understand what type of ear infection your dog might have.
Ears mites in dogs are also visible to the naked eye, unlike yeast infections which are microscopic.
Veterinarians can easily distinguish which infection your dog may have by taking a swab from your dog’s ear and looking at it under a microscope.
What Breeds Are Most Prone To Yeast Infections?
All breeds of dogs can develop yeast infections, but some are more likely to get it than the rest due to their floppy ears, skin folds, allergies, and inadequate immune systems. This include:
- Shih Tzu
- Basset Hound
- West Highland White Terrier
- American Cocker Spaniel
- Australian Silky Terriers
- English Setters
- Golden Retrievers
- Lhasa apsos
What Causes A Dog Yeast Infection?
Yeast infections in dogs are usually a secondary problem. Meaning there is usually some other primary issue that weakens the body’s immune system and upsets the skin’s natural balance, allowing the yeast to get out of control.
Some of the most common causes of yeast infections in dogs are:
1. Food Allergies or Food Sensitivities
The most common reason for a dog to develop a yeast infection is an unhappy skin or gut biome.
A healthy gut flora keeps everything in check, not only digesting your food and working with your immune system but also actively works to keep nasties like yeast down. This is OUR host!
Dysbiosis is the term used to describe when a gut flora goes out of whack.
Many things cause this – an infection, illness, or stress. But one of the most common causes is an undiagnosed and untreated allergy or sensitivity to certain foods. If you keep eating the problem proteins, your immune system will be on constant alergy, under constant siege.
Over time, the chronic inflammation result disturbs the gut and its ability to function. A shift in gut flora is the inevitable result.
This raging internal inflammation, coupled with a shift in gut flora, begins to materialise on the skin or in the ear which swells and heat up, becoming itchy, agitating the dog, and upsetting the skin flora in the process.
This is the opening Malassezia needs!
With skin flora balance suffering, this yeast can now grow exponentially, particularly when it is warm, wet, and well-fed.
In most cases, the dog is on a poor diet, usually (but not always) ultra-processed, chemically preserves (upsetting the gut flora), and almost always one high in carbohydrates (cereal, potato, rice, fruit, etc).
Yeast loves carbs/sugar. Needs it to multiply.
Give them a heated, moist area (swollen ear), and now plenty of food, yeasts will fester!
2. Other Allergens and Contaminants
Pollens, smoke, molds, chemical abuse (flea and tick treatments, etc), poor breeding (with not enough access to the outside while young and developing the immune system) and stress can all upset the skin flora which in turn can leave your dog prone to yeast infections.
Since hot and humid weather helps the yeast grow out of control, having wet or moist skin, especially moist ear canals and skin folds, is a significant catalyst for yeast infections.
3. Antibiotic Use
During allergy seasons, dogs that are prescribed antibiotics are more prone to yeast infections. Antibiotics don’t necessarily cause infections, but being on them can upset the balance of good bacteria on the skin. Without them keeping yeast in check, you’re in trouble.
4. Disease and Steroid Medicines
Some dogs have underlying medical conditions, including hormonal problems and autoimmune diseases that cause them to become more susceptible to yeast overgrowth and develop chronic yeast infections.
Most dogs with food sensitivities get prescribed medicines with steroids. Steroids not only repress the immune response but are known to damage and perturb the skin potentially making dogs more prone to yeast infections, as they do in humans.
How To Diagnose a Yeast Infection In Your Dog?
The only definitive way to diagnose yeast infections in dogs is to consult a veterinarian. If you bring your pet to the clinic, the vet will confirm the infection through a method called cytology or cytopathology. By taking a hair or skin sample from the affected area of your dog, the vet will review it under a microscope to determine if it is a yeast infection or not.
If the infected area is inside the ear canals, then the vet will do further tests to determine if it’s only a yeast infection or if it’s related to other causes of dog ear infections as well.
Solutions For Yeast Infections In Dogs
After properly identifying that your dog has yeast infections, there are many natural tips and tricks you can use to remedy it. These include:
1. What To Feed A Dog With a Yeast Infection
Dry ultra-processed food must go. First off, your dog has a gut flora issue, they do not need chemical preservatives napalming them while they try to recover. Also, most dry (and canned) food is insanely high in dextrinized, rapidly digested carbohydrates such as wheat, corn, potato, pea. These are just one tiny digestive step to being sugar and yeast needs this to thrive.
You must move this dog to a fresh, biologically appropriate diet of raw meat and bone.
It’s important this diet is completely free of carbohydrates (cereals such as wheat and corn, bread, potatoes, rice, peas, carrots, pumpkin, honey, fruit, etc). We are trying to starve the yeast into submission.
If you are struggling to source pre-made raw dog foods free of fruits and vegetables, you might consider learning how to make your dog diet according to your pet’s needs.
Again, the most important cure for dog yeast infections is to provide a fresh, healthy diet completely free of carbohydrates to your dog.
This means you must remove any sugary treats from the diet of your dog.
Not only does sugar feed the yeast and actually repress the immune system by itself by spiking insulin, but it also increases the likelihood of many inflammatory issues in the dog such as obesity, cancer, pancreatitis, and rotten teeth, which will further weaken your dog when they need all their resources to fight this infection.
2. Topical Treatments For a Dog Yeast Infection
If we permit the infection to fester deep in the ear canals, oral medicines and even surgeries may be required. So let’s try a few things first before those things are even considered.
The good news is there are lots of natural ways to take care of a yeast infection in a dog’s ear. The best method appears to be garlic oil with mullein.
Check out those reviews, many for humans but many for dogs too. All for ears!
How to use it?
Simply soak a cotton swab with the oil and make his ear nice and juicy. You can even drop it in, if he allows you. You need that ear nice and juicy so you can massage it right down to the bottom of their L-shaped ear canal.
Another gentle solution that will restore the pH level in the ears and help eliminate all gunks and nasty smells is Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV).
ACV essentially extracts the water from the yeast cells, killing it straight away. It’s also an excellent anti-bacterial solution, which can often get into minor scratches made in the ear from the dog scratching at his poor ears.
If you want to properly clean more significant parts of your dog’s whole body, then using a natural anti-fungal shampoo might help them.
The Anti-Bac, Anti-Fungal Itchy Dog Skin Shampoo from Cooper & Gracie seems to be going down extremely well with people treating yeast infections in dogs. Again, all those reviews don’t lie.
Wash your dog correctly, following the recommended procedures for maximum effect. It is a natural shampoo with tea tree, clove, and peppermint, which not only have a cooling effect on the skin but kill yeast in the process.
Keep the lather on the skin for at least 10 minutes before rinsing. This will help remove the greasiness or the flakiness of the skin.
Into that bath, I would dissolve in some Epsom salts. It is high in magnesium which is used to reduce itch in dogs, horses, and humans.
TIP: You can even add a few drops of magnesium to a second bowl of water, see if they drink it. No dosage needed. They will take what they want, should they need it, via a process known as Zoo Pharmacognosy, which means he knows what he needs to fix him.
Also, make sure to dry your dog well after his bath!
I often find a pr0biotic spray after a bath is an excellent way to help replenish the struggling skin flora.
If you have a particularly stubborn infected area, such as between the toes, and you don’t want your dog walking garlic oil all over the place (and bearing in mind an ACV wash might work…) please know that your vet has a variety of very effective anti-fungal creams and ointments.
3. Oral Treatments For Dogs With Yeast Infections
Most yeast infections come from within, so topical treatment alone is unlikely to be effective by themselves. You need to tackle the yeast internally too.
Some oral treatments include:
- Good quality canine probiotics will help restore balance in your dog’s gut health, fighting the yeast from within. Probiotics is really a numbers game, you’re throwing the troops at the guns. The special encapsulation means these probiotics evade the dog’s highly acidic gut acids and open at a certain pH in the intestines where they hope to do some good. Probiotics are best given on empty stomachs.
- Give digestive enzymes with cellulase. Yeast is clever. It encapsulates itself in cellulose as it knows we can’t digest it. This enables it to hang around longer but also evade the various bits we give the dog when trying to kill it. Cellulase will digest the outer walls of yeasts. Sprinkle this powder on their food like salt.
- Now that the yeast is exposed, we can give the dog a number of natural bits to help tackle yeast infection. One of the most popular is a little crushed garlic in their food. You can give a 15kg dog half a crushed clove of garlic per day and yes, it’s very safe. Please read the article to understand more, should you be concerned.
- Dried olive leaf (thanks to a high oleuropein content) is known to be effective at zapping yeast in dogs. Add 1-2 gm of powder per 10 kg of dog food every day.
- Also effective are oregano oil and grapeseed extract. Feed each one for two weeks. You MUST dilute oregano essential oil as it can burn. The normal dilution is 1 part oregano essential oil with 4 parts carrier oil (coconut/olive). This you can then drop on the food. Grapeseed extract comes in liquid or powder form. I prefer this liquid one. Give dogs with yeast conditions 2-3 drops of this twice daily for two weeks.
How To Prevent Yeast Infections In Dogs
We want to avoid a yeast infection in our dog. Thankfully, there are a number of steps we can take to help keep our canine friends safe. Some of these preventative methods are:
- Remove all carbohydrates, chemically preserved dry food and treats from your dog’s life. Give your pet a fresh meat and bone diet free of carbs/sugar. Do not compromise your dog’s gut flora or immune system with anything else.
- If your dog is prone to yeasty ear or skin fold infections, then regular (weekly) treatments using garlic oil or Apple Cider Vinegar Solution will help prevent most types of ear infections, particularly during hot and humid weather.
- Use a little prevention often (crushed garlic, now and again, as above).
- Beware of your pet’s food allergies or sensitivities.
There is no vaccine to prevent a yeast infection in dogs. So the only way to prevent yeast infections in your beloved pets is to take the precautions above and beware of the symptoms.
If you suspect that your dog has a yeast infection and you feel you need a little hand-holding, that’s what we’re here for. You can book a Zoom consult with Dr. Conor Brady for a diet and treatment plan that is most appropriate for your pet.