Yeast Infections: Dog Care Guide & Home Remedies
Have you noticed your dog scratching more than usual? If you have investigated the source of your dog’s discomfort and found red irritated skin, and an off-putting odor, your dog may have a yeast infection.
Dog yeast infections can be stressful for dogs and their owners. Not only are yeast infections uncomfortable for dogs, but the odor and appearance can be quite worrisome for concerned owners. If you suspect your dog is suffering from a yeast infection, do not panic. This guide will help you:
- Better understand yeast infections
- Understand the difference between a systemic yeast infection and a skin yeast infection
- Know if your dog is at high risk for yeast infections
- Identify if your dog does have a yeast infection
- Treat your dog’s yeast infection at home
- Decide if your dog needs to visit the veterinarian
- Prevent your dog from suffering from future yeast infections
What Is a Dog Yeast Infection?
A dog yeast infection is simply a fungal infection. These infections are common for many dogs, especially those that live in humid climates.
Like a bacterial infection or viral infection, your dog’s immune system kicks into action and tries to destroy the fungi that are causing the irritation. However, the infection tends to spread and wreak havoc on your dog’s body. This is because yeast infections often begin as a result of a weakened immune system. The weakened immune system is not strong enough to fight off the infection, which gives the yeast the opportunity to spread.
Fungal infections can be either systematic, affecting the systems of your dog’s body, or localized, affecting a region of the skin. However, systematic or systemic fungal infections are less common.
Therefore, the term “yeast infection” when used in reference to dogs has become synonymous with fungal infections of the skin. The scientific term for a skin yeast infection is “Malassezia dermatitis.”
Systemic Fungal Infections in Dogs
Systemic fungal infections occur when the fungi enter the body and penetrate a dog’s organs, eyes, lungs, nasal passages, or bones. One way to think about systemic yeast infections is they affect your dog internally, while skin yeast infections plague your dog’s external body.
Additionally, while skin yeast infections are usually caused by yeast naturally present in your dog’s skin, internal yeast infections are usually the result of foreign fungi invading your dog’s body. Frequently, dogs become infected with internal fungi from inhaling fungi hidden in the soil. Often, internal fungal infections are the result of a dog sniffing damp soil where birds have let droppings or where spores from rotting wood may be present.
While less common than yeast infections of the skin, many dogs will suffer from systemic fungal infections, which is why we feel it is important to educate owners on them, as well.
4 Common Types of Systemic Fungal Infections in Dogs
These fungi that affect your dog’s respiratory system, primarily the nose, is the result of inhaling fungi spores found in grass clippings, straw, hay, or dust.
Signs of nasal aspergillosis:
- Runny nose
- Bleeding nose
- Reverse sneezing
- A swollen, sore nose
Like Nasal Aspergillosis, Cryptococcosis fungal spores enter the body through the nose. This fungus is often spread by pigeons leaving droppings where a dog may play.
Symptoms of cryptococcosis:
- Head tilt
- Lack of coordination
- Runny nose
- Eye discharge
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Vomiting (less common)
- Diarrhea (less common)
This fungus attacks the lungs and can be found in wet soil and rotting wood, often where birds, and bats gather and leave droppings Because it thrives in wet environments only dogs that frequent swampy areas usually contract this fungus.
Signs of blastomycosis:
- Weight loss
- Lack of appetite
Lower Urinary Fungal Infection
Yeast infections of the kidneys, bladder, urinary tract, and urethra remain uncommon for most dogs. They can be caused by catheters used during or after surgery, diabetes, or a concurrent bacterial infection of the lower urinary tract.
Symptoms of a urinary yeast infection in dogs:
- Trouble urinating
- Going more frequently in small amounts
- Blood in the urine
- Excessive grooming of the urinary area
Treating a Systemic Yeast Infection in Dogs
Systemic fungus infections need to be treated with oral antifungal medications. So, if your dog shows any of the above symptoms of an internal fungal infection, you will want to see your vet. Your vet may also change other medications to prevent future internal yeast infections.
Skin Yeast Infections in Dogs
self, CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons
Dog yeast infections of the skin are often referred to as yeast dermatitis because they stay on the surface of your dog’s skin, as opposed to systemic fungal infections. These infections can spread over your dog’s body or be confined to a smaller region, such as the ears or paws.
Skin yeast infections are itchy, uncomfortable, and may crack and bleed if left untreated.
Causes of Skin Yeast Infections
Unlike systemic infections, most dog dermal yeast infections are not caused by coming into contact with infected debris, such as contaminated soil. Skin yeast infections are most commonly a secondary infection.
Many owners are surprised to learn that all dogs naturally have fungi that live on their skin. However, most fungi are harmless, and a dog’s immune system can easily keep them under control. The problem arises when a dog’s immune system cannot keep the fungus at bay, resulting in an infection.
Yeast Infections Arise from Weakened Immune Systems
Usually, only dogs with weakened immune systems or other health conditions develop yeast infections. To understand why let’s take a closer look at how your dog’s immune system fights off harmful fungi.
Your dog’s body uses white blood cells to fight off infection. These white blood cells are created in and travel between lymph nodes. When a white blood cell enters a lymph node, the lymph node filters out the infection and sends the white blood cell along its way.
When a dog’s body has too many infections or health threats, the white blood cells, lymph nodes, and overall immune system cannot keep up, allowing the yeast infection to develop and spread.
If you imagine your dog’s white blood cells are like soldiers, it can be easier to understand. When the troops are divided into two battlefronts (fighting skin-level fungus and another infection) they are not as effective. The immune system’s army of blood cells works best when they can approach one enemy as one united front.
This is why you often see dogs with allergies, cancer, or another illness develop yeast infections more frequently.
Antibiotics. Medications, and Dog Yeast Infections
Yeast infections also crop up when a dog is on medication that suppresses the immune system or antibiotics. For example, dogs that are on steroids for allergies are at a higher risk for developing yeast infections.
Antibiotics destroy bacteria, including good bacteria. When the good bacteria that neutralize fungi are eliminated from your dog’s skin, the yeast has the opportunity to multiply more rapidly, resulting in an infection.
As for steroids, they suppress the immune system, allowing fungi to run rampant.
Other Factors that Contribute to Dog Yeast Infections on the Skin
While having a compromised immune system is often the leading contributor to yeast infections, some dogs are simply more prone to them. This can be because of their coat type, skin folds, climate, allergies, and habits.
Breeds Prone to Skin Yeast Infections
- French Bulldogs
- Boston Terriers
- English Bulldogs
- Basset Hounds
- Shar Pei
- Cocker Spaniels
- German Shepherds
- West Highland Terriers
- Treeing Hounds
- Labrador Retrievers
- Pit Bulls
The Most Common Places for Dogs Develop Yeast Infections
Dog Ear Yeast Infection
“Ear infection in cocker spaniel” by Joel Mills is licensed by CC BY 3.0.
Dog Paw Yeast Infection
“Malassezien an Hundepfote” by blumenbiene is licensed with CC BY 2.0.
Fungi tend to gather and spread in areas of the body that remain damp and warm. This makes certain body parts on a dog more prone to yeast infections than others. The most common being yeast infection of the belly and yeast infection of the ears.
Signs and Symptoms That Your Dog May Have a Yeast Infection
If your dog scratches and scratches then scratches some more, they may have a skin-level yeast infection or another dermatological issue. To tell if your dog’s problem is a yeast infection, look for these common signs:
- Red, itchy skin
- Gooey or sticky yellow or green discharge from the infected area
- A rancid odor
- Sores or patches
- Hair loss of the infected area
- An oily or greasy coat
- Thickened skin
- Crusting or flaking skin
- Ear infection
- Ear Scratching
- Paw licking and scratching
Diagnosing A Skin Yeast Infection
Your vet can diagnose your dog with a yeast infection using one of several techniques that all fall into the cytology category. Cytology is the process of taking a sample of the fungi and looking at it under a microscope. Sometimes vets use dyes to make the details of the sample stand out, making them easier to identify.
There are several ways a vet can take a cytological sample of the infected tissues. However, every approach does require your veterinarian to collect a small amount of the infected skin. Most of these techniques are painless.
Scraping the skin: Scratching off and collecting some yeast organisms on the skin
Swabbing the skin: Rubbing a damp swab on the infected area to collect yeast
Impression smear: Pressing a glass slide into the skin, yeast sticks to the slide through contact
Tape transfer: Sticking a small section of tape to the area, the yeast clings to the adhesive
Skin biopsy: Removing a skin sample with a biopsy punch
“Malassezia globosa” by AJC1 is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0.
Once the tissue is collected your vet will look at it under a microscope. They are looking for Malassezia dermatitis, a common fungus that lives on the skin. It’s ovular or peanut-shaped and splits in a singular pattern (See picture).
Treating Yeast Dermatitis
Treatment for dermatological yeast infection in dogs depends on the severity and the location of your dog’s infection. Of course, contacting your vet is always a good idea when you’re concerned for your dog’s health. Especially, if the infection does not clear up on its own or after treating it with a home remedy for 3 to 5 days. Your vet may recommend a more aggressive topical and oral treatment.
Home Remedies for Dog Yeast Infections
Treating your dog’s skin yeast infection at home may be an option you want to try if the infection is not severe. Keep in mind that most of these remedies have not been proven with scientific clinical studies.
Boost your dog’s immune system and beneficial bacteria by feeding them:
- Plain yogurt
- Dog-friendly probiotics
- Fermented veggies, like sauerkraut
- Coconut oil
Topical homeopathic treatments some dog owners use to treat yeast infection include:
- Coconut oil
- Vinegar rinse
- Witch hazel
- Hydrogen Peroxide
- Anti-fungal shampoo
- Tea tree oil
Veterinary Treatments for Dog Yeast Infections
Your vet may prescribe your dog a medicated, anti-fungal shampoo. These shampoos often use miconazole, ketoconazole, or chlorhexidine to kill off the fungi. For the shampoo to be fully effective it should sit on your dog’s coat for a minimum of 10 minutes to fully penetrate the skin.
Some dogs with thick, greasy coats or oily skin may need a pre-shampoo to remove excess oil for the shampoo to work. This usually involves a peroxide rinse or a shampoo that has selenium sulfide in it.
Most dogs need to be shampooed every 2 to 5 days to fully eliminate the fungi and clear up the infection.
You can also follow up with a skin care solution to keep your dog’s new skin healthy.
Oral treatments are often reserved for the most severe yeast infection. The medications most vets prescribe for yeast infections include fluconazole, terbinafine, ketoconazole, and itraconazole.
Preventing Dog Yeast Infections
Fungi thrive in warm, dark, damp environments. The key to preventing a fungal infection is to eliminate these conditions and manually remove yeast as often as possible from your dog’s skin, ears, and toes.
Keep Your Dog’s Skin and Fur Dry
Because some breeds hold moisture in their fur longer, you may want to have your dog’s coat trimmed. Keeping your dog’s coat brushed also eliminates excess fur that can trap moisture and heat.
To prevent the recurrence of a dermatological yeast infection, always dry your dog after a swim, bath, or walking in the rain. Pay extra attention to drying the belly.
For dogs with folds in their skin, wipe between skin folds to remove excess moisture, yeast, dander, and bacteria.
Bathe Your Dog Regularly
Dogs that live in humid climates benefit from regular baths, especially if they have excessive skin folds or recurring yeast infections.
Keep Your Dog’s Ears Clean and Dry
Always dry your dog’s ears after a swim. Lightly press a towel to the opening of the ears and always allow your dog to fully shake their head to force moisture out of the ear canal.
Clean your dog’s ears regularly to reduce the load of fungi present in the ear canal. (Learn how to clean your dog’s ears).
Keep Your Dog’s Paws Clean and Dry
Rinse your dog’s feet after walks, since they may be allergic to grass or pollen, and licking the paws will increase moisture.
If you notice your dog excessively chewing on their paws, cover them with socks.
Support Your Dog’s Immune System
Because yeast infections are often secondary infections caused by a weakened immune, it’s vital to provide your dog as much immune system support as possible.
First, you will want to see your vet who will determine if there is a primary infection or a health problem your dog is experiencing. Your vet may diagnose your dog as having allergies, cancer, diabetes, or another condition that can compromise the immune system.
Then, feed your dog a healthy diet that supports the immune system. Leafy greens, probiotics, sweet potatoes, legumes, lentils, and other veggies are a great start. You may even want to include an immune support supplement in your dog’s daily routine.
You will also want to encourage your dog to stay physically active with walks, play, and plenty of interaction. Follow your dog’s activity with a bit of massage since studies suggest massage enhances the immune system’s ability to react to infection.
Don’t Let Dog Yeast Infections Bother Your Best Friend
Yeast infections may not be the most serious health problem a dog can come down with, but you do want to be vigilant about treatment. Furthermore, understanding if your dog has a primary infection or another medical condition contributing to the development of the yeast infection could save your dog’s life.
If your dog is prone to yeast infections, you also want to prevent future infections by proactively providing immune system support and keeping your dog dry as a bone. Remember that keeping your dog’s ears clean can prevent ear yeast infections of the ear.