Yeast Infection in Dogs: Causes, Clinical Signs & Treatment
Is your dog itching and scratching uncontrollably? Is it licking at its groin or scooting its butt on the carpet? Do your dog’s paws smell like cheese? These uncomfortable symptoms can be a sign of a yeast infection in dogs. The skin and gut of every dog naturally contains yeast, bacteria and fungi. These organisms are part of the microbiome that keeps your dog’s immune system balanced. When your dog’s system gets out of balance, yeast can overgrow, causing doggie odor, skin and ear infections, and itching.
Allergies, antibiotics or steroid use, environment and certain foods are the primary causes of yeast infections. A weakened immune system can also cause yeast overgrowth.
Yeast infections in dogs are most common on the skin and ears. This condition can cause itching, scratching, blackened “elephant” skin, waxy ears, redness, sores and an offensive “cheesy” odor. It can make a dog very uncomfortable. If not treated, yeast dermatitis can cause painful skin infections.
Yeast infections need to be treated by a veterinarian. They will not go away by themselves. Prescription medications can provide short-term relief from the symptoms. Yeast infections often recur and can become a chronic problem unless the underlying causes are addressed.
There Is Hope...There Is Help...for Yeast Infections in Dogs
Holistic treatments for yeast dermatitis in dogs include diet changes, supplements and lifestyle changes. These help stop the cycle of chronic yeast symptoms. Natural antifungal herbs, such as oregano, pau d’arco and olive leaf, can help to reduce the yeast in your dog’s microbiome. When using these treatments along with diet and lifestyle changes, you can help control the uncomfortable symptoms of yeast infections.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Dog Yeast Infections?
Dogs with yeast infections have symptoms that are similar to those caused by allergies and bacterial infections. Dogs will itch, lick, chew, scoot and scratch to relieve their discomfort. A yeast infection on a dog's skin will cause a pungent smell. It is an unpleasant musty odor, and some say it smells like corn chips or moldy bread. Most dogs will also have red skin and inflammation. The skin can also appear greasy or crusty. Long-term dog yeast infections may result in blackened skin, also called “elephant skin.”
Constant licking of the paws and groin are two common signs of yeast dermatitis. Dogs will lick until the skin is raw and inflamed. This can cause hot spots and lead to infection. Butt scooting is another attempt to calm the itchiness. A yeast infection in a dog’s ears is also very smelly. It causes brown and yellow discharge, head shaking, head tilting and pawing at the ears. Brown ear discharge that resembles coffee grounds is usually a symptom of ear mites, not a yeast infection. Ear mites are contagious from one dog to another. Since yeast infections come from the inside, the good news is that they are not contagious to other pets.
How Is Yeast Dermatitis in Dogs Diagnosed?
The clinical signs of yeast dermatitis are quite evident. Candida species (i.e., Candida albicans) are the most common cause of yeast infections in dogs. Malassezia pachydermatis is another common fungus responsible for yeast dermatitis in dogs. To confirm a diagnosis, most vets will perform a cytology or culture. A cytology includes looking at skin cells under a microscope. A culture is performed by rubbing a swab across the skin and sending it to the lab for analysis. A culture test can also determine which medications will be effective in treating the specific fungus. Yeast and fungal growth from a culture can take time, so most vets prefer cytology for faster results.
What Causes Dog Yeast Infections?
Your dog’s skin contains a wide variety of bacteria and fungi. It sounds gross, but your dog has Candida albicans, staphylococcus, Malassezia pachydermatis and streptococcus canis on its skin. These organisms coexist and do not normally cause a problem until something creates an imbalance. Once there is an imbalance, pathogens will take advantage of the opportunity to proliferate. Yeast infections are one of many possible opportunistic infections. Here are some of the most common causes of dog yeast infections:
- Antibiotic and Steroid Use - Yeast symptoms commonly occur along with a bacterial infection, so antibiotics and steroids are often prescribed. Antibiotics kill off the bad bacteria as well as the good bacteria needed for a healthy immune system. Prescription antifungal medications can also create an imbalance. Steroids (i.e., prednisone) calm yeast infection symptoms by reducing inflammation and suppressing the immune response. These medications can upset the microbiome and create a vicious cycle of dog yeast infection symptoms. Once antibiotics and/or steroids are stopped, the symptoms will usually return.
- Food and Environmental Allergies - Allergies in dogs can be caused by environmental allergens such as grass, pollen or dust mites. Dogs will have a similar type of allergic response to food allergens. Common food allergens can include things such as poultry, dairy or peanut butter. Allergies create inflammation and red, itchy skin. When dogs scratch themselves, they open the protective skin barrier. Tiny scratches or lesions become the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, fungi or yeast to cause infection.
- High-Carbohydrate Diet - Dog foods and treats that are high in carbohydrates, sugars and grains can help yeast to grow. All carbohydrates, including soy, corn, potatoes, wheat, peas and rice, are some form of sugar. When there is too much sugar in your dog’s body, it provides food for bad bacteria and yeast to grow. Sugar is the ultimate fuel for candida yeast. Dry kibble, even a high-quality grain-free brand, is extremely high in carbohydrates and fillers. Carbohydrates convert to sugars during digestion. Vegetables such as sweet potatoes and potatoes are used in most grain-free dog foods. These should be avoided by dogs with yeast infections. Sweets (honey, molasses, corn syrup) and breads should also be avoided.
- Heat and Humidity - Yeast thrives in warm, moist environments. Dog yeast infections occur most often in the warm summer months due to higher humidity levels. Try to keep your dog indoors when the humidity is high. Many dogs love to swim in the summer. Wet skin and ears can create an ideal environment for yeast growth. Make sure to dry your pups, especially in the groin and ears, after they swim.
- Genetic Predisposition - Certain breeds seem to be genetically more likely to suffer from yeast infections. These breeds include cocker spaniels, basset hounds, West Highland white terriers, Malteses, shih-tzus, Lhasa apsos, Chihuahuas, dachshunds, German shepherds, boxers and poodles.
Your dog’s microbiome has a delicate balance. It contains good and bad bacteria. When the normal flora in your dog’s intestinal tract is disrupted, yeast can overgrow. The skin is your dog’s largest elimination organ. Thus, dogs with yeast develop skin problems (red, flaky, greasy, crusty, itchy) and a pungent odor.
How Do Veterinarians Treat Dog Yeast Infections?
Traditional veterinary treatments for yeast infections can be topical or oral. For chronic yeast infections, which often include concurrent bacterial overgrowth, a combination of both is used. Topical treatment includes the use of medicated shampoos. Antifungal shampoos can include chlorhexidine, ketoconazole or miconazole. For ear yeast infections or skin hot spots, topical ointments may be prescribed. Oral antifungal medications such as ketoconazole, itraconazole and fluconazole are effective in treating yeast infections and Malassezia dermatitis, but they must be given for months at a time. Corticosteroid medications and plant sterol supplements can be used to reduce inflammation.
Dogs are treated with antibiotics if they have developed a secondary skin infection. The use of antibiotics and antifungal medications carry the risk of potential side effects. Antifungals can have adverse effects on the liver, especially if used long term. The FDA has issued several warnings regarding the safety of oral ketoconazole yeast medications in humans, as it carries the risk of severe liver injury and adrenal gland problems. Reliance on prescription drugs can further upset the microbiome balance and immune response. Using probiotics along with these medications can lessen the impact on beneficial gut bacteria.
Home Remedies For Dog Yeast Infections
Treating yeast in dogs with natural supplements can help reduce symptoms and prevent chronic infections. Probiotics are essential in helping to maintain balance in the microbiome. Probiotics replenish good bacteria and support digestive and immune health. Studies have shown that caprylic acid can help to break down the membranes of candida cells. Herbs such as pau d’arco, oregano, grapefruit seed extract and olive leaf extract all contain natural antifungal properties that can help kill yeast and fungal pathogens.
Dogs with yeast infections can be bathed a few times a week with prescription antifungal shampoos. These shampoos help eliminate pathogens on the skin and help with the pungent odor. Use caution with household items such as tea tree oil, peroxide, apple cider vinegar or witch hazel. Dogs can have adverse reactions when these are applied topically. Please consult with your veterinarian about what shampoos would be best for your dog. Bathing treatments can be used a few times a week initially and then on an as-needed basis. Yeast thrives in moist, damp environments. Make sure that you dry your dog thoroughly after bathing and avoid getting water in your dog’s ears.
The Best Diet for Dogs With Yeast Infections
The best food for dogs with yeast infections is a frozen low-carbohydrate raw novel-protein diet. Some meat proteins, like chicken, turkey, duck and beef, are potential allergens for dogs. Diets high in grains (corn, wheat, rice) can cause inflammation and skin problems in dogs. Dairy products, like milks or yogurts, are very high in sugars and should be avoided. Potatoes and sweet potatoes are starchy vegetables and are not recommended for dogs with yeast. Green vegetables such as zucchini or green beans are excellent additions to your dog’s meals. They also make great treats.
How To Prevent Dog Yeast Infections
- Feeding an anti-yeast diet is the best way to prevent yeast infections in dogs.
- Use natural yeast prevention remedies.
- Keep your dog active and healthy.
- Reduce stress.
- If you live in a hot, humid environment, keep your dog inside as much as possible.
Yeast infections are a common cause of itching and irritation in dogs. A treatment plan for dog yeast infections should first include a veterinary examination and laboratory testing. Prescription medications may be needed for short-term relief of skin infections. Holistic treatments, including diet changes and supplements, can yield the best long-term results. Yeast infections can become chronic or lead to secondary infections. We always recommend consulting with your veterinarian to obtain a proper diagnosis before using natural treatments at home.