Yeast infections in dogs: what to look out for

Yeast infections in dogs are quite common and can occur anywhere on the skin,  including the ears.  A yeast infection happens when there’s an excessive amount of yeast in a certain area but they are usually are caused by an underlying issue; anything that diminishes the normal defences in the skin can make yeast infections more likely.

Dog breeds that are more prone to yeast dermatitis include Shih Tzus, West Highland White Terriers, American Cocker Spaniels, Basset Hounds, English Setters, Boxers, Poodles, Dachshunds, and Australian Silky Terriers.

Yeast infections in dogs: the causes

Yeast infections in dogs are usually secondary problems. This means that there is some other issue that is weakening the skin’s defence mechanisms to allow the yeast to grow in higher numbers than normal.

It is very common to see yeast infections in a dog’s ears or on their skin if they have food allergies or environmental allergies. Other underlying issues that may cause these infections include hormonal problems or other diseases that suppress the immune system.

There are no studies to confirm that any of the following cause yeast infections on a dog’s skin:

  • Antibiotics
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Oatmeal shampoos
  • Carbohydrates or sugar in food

 Symptoms to watch out for

Here are the most common areas for yeast infections in dogs and some signs that you can look out for:

• Skin

Yeast infections can occur anywhere on a dog’s skin, including the belly. They are often seen in areas that are moist, such as in skin folds, especially in ‘wrinkly’ dog breeds. The affected skin may be red, irritated, itchy, greasy, or flakey, and there may be hair loss. If the infection is chronic, the skin may thicken and become darker in colour. Yeast infections on a dog’s mouth or face can cause extreme itching or face rubbing.

• Paws

A dog with yeast infections on their paws can have red, irritated, and itchy paws. The underside of the paws, between the pads, is affected most often, but yeast can occur anywhere on the paws. Sometimes a brown discharge can be seen in the nail beds.

Dogs with yeast infections on the paws usually lick their paws more than normal. There may also be hair loss.

• Ears

Dog ear yeast infections are quite common, and the ears often smell sweet or musty.

Usually, you will see redness, which may extend onto the flap of the ear, and the discharge is generally brown. The ear may appear to be greasy, and the hair may be matted.

Yeast infections in a dog’s ears can be very itchy, causing dogs to scratch their ears or rub their head excessively.

Ears mites vs yeast infections

Yeast infections in a dog’s ears generally cause redness, a brown discharge, head shaking or rubbing, odour, and itching.

Ear mite infections are extremely itchy and can cause many of the same symptoms. The discharge from the ear is usually dark and waxy or crusty. Ear mites are barely visible to the naked eye and highly contagious to other animals.

Your veterinarian can easily determine whether a dog’s ear problem is caused by yeast or mites by taking a swab from their ear and looking at it under a microscope.

Treatment for yeast infections

The best treatment for a yeast infection on a dog depends on the location of the yeast infection.

• Ears

Your veterinarian may perform cytology (taking a swab of the discharge and staining it to look at it under the microscope) to diagnose a yeast infection in a dog’s ears.

Prescription treatment may include anti-fungal drops or ointment, an ear cleaner, and in severe or difficult-to-treat cases, an oral anti-fungal medication.

• Skin and paws

Cytology is also used to diagnose yeast on the skin. Treatments for yeast infections on the skin can include topical anti-fungal creams, wipes, sprays, and shampoos.

In difficult-to-treat or severe cases, oral anti-fungal medications are used. These medications should be used only under the direction of a veterinarian.

Human medications should not be used unless under the direction of a veterinarian.

Are there home remedies I can use?

People often talk about home remedies for dog yeast infections, but most are not proven to be effective. The only one that has some effect is a vinegar rinse but because proper dilution is important to avoid irritation, this should only be used under the direction of your veterinarian.

Preventing yeast infections

Prevention must include addressing the underlying cause to reduce the likelihood that the infection will reoccur.

• Routine bathing with an anti-fungal shampoo may be beneficial. However, for shampoo treatment to be effective, the lather must sit on a dog’s skin for a minimum of 10 minutes before rinsing.

• Dogs with skin folds may need to have maintenance treatment to keep these areas from becoming too moist, as yeast thrive in moist, dark places such as skin folds and ears.

• Dogs that have had allergy testing and are determined to be allergic to yeast can be desensitised by including yeast as an ingredient in immunotherapy (allergy vaccine).

• If you suspect that your dog has a yeast infection, ask your vet for a diagnosis and treatment plan that is appropriate for your pet.

Article by Leigh Burkett, DVM