Yeast Infections in Dogs
Written by Small Door's medical experts
Itchy, irritated skin with a distinct odor can be an indication of a yeast infection, a common skin concern for dogs. A dog will typically develop a yeast infection on the skin or in the ears. Regardless of location, a yeast infection can cause extreme discomfort and can be an indication of a more serious issue.
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A yeast infection occurs when there is an overabundance of yeast found on the body of a dog. Yeasts are budding, spore-like forms of fungi that typically live on the body without causing illness. It is only when their numbers grow that they cause issues.
Yeast thrives in a moist environment, so for dogs, that can be in places such as the ears, paws, armpit, groin, and even the folds of their face in certain breeds. A veterinarian will be able to make a definitive diagnosis, but as an owner, watch for these certain signs.
Changes in skin color and texture. In the early stages of a yeast infection, the skin begins to turn pink or red. When dealing with chronic yeast infections, the skin may become leathery, thick, and gray or black.
Greasy skin. The skin can become greasy or excessively oily.
Scaly skin. Some dogs may develop scaling, crusting, or flakiness of the skin, similar to dandruff.
Head shaking and tilting. Because the ears are the most common place for a dog to develop a yeast infection, pay close attention if your dog starts exhibiting these movements.
Scratching and rubbing. Yeast infections are incredibly itchy, and some dogs will try and scratch the infected area or rub up against the floor, furniture, or another surface to get relief.
Licking. Incessant licking of the infected area is another way a dog might try and find relief.
Swelling and warmth. Redness and swelling are the first signs of a yeast infection, but a dog’s symptoms can progress to swelling, warmth, and pain in the infected area.
Odor. Another common sign of yeast infection is a distinct smell, which will likely be your first indicator that your dog has this condition. The smell has been described by dog owners to mimic a musty or cheesy scent.
Hair loss. For yeast infections in the ear, which can be associated with inflammation, hair loss will occur around the ears.
Drooling. Although extremely rare, a yeast infection can occur inside the mouth, leading to drooling, discomfort, and problems eating. These signs can also be indicators of other oral issues that can be determined by your veterinarian.
Yeast infections in dogs’ ears typically result in head shaking and rubbing, itching, odor, redness, and brown discharge. Ear mites in dogs have many of the same symptoms, however, there are a few slight differences. Ear mites cause a dark discharge from the ear that can be waxy or crusty. Ear mites are also barely visible to the naked eye, extremely itchy, and very contagious to other animals. If your dog is experiencing any of these symptoms, contact your vet so they can determine whether it’s a yeast infection or ear mites and the best option for treatment.
Although it’s possible for all dogs to contract a yeast infection, it’s more common for specific breeds. Breeds with excess skin folds, floppy ears, hair growing in the inner ear canal, and those with allergies have a higher chance of getting a yeast infection.
Susceptible breeds include:
West Highland White Terrier
Yeast infections can develop for many reasons. A dog with an underactive immune system can develop yeast overgrowth and infection. An overactive immune system, meanwhile, can trigger allergic reactions, which also leads to yeast infections.
When a dog develops allergies, it can be a sign of an overactive immune system. If the allergy is severe, a veterinarian will prescribe medication to help alleviate those symptoms, although certain medications can alter the natural balance of good bacteria, and can lead to yeast overgrowth.
Allergens such as pollens, mold, dust, cigarette smoke, cleaning products, and even certain foods, especially if they’re high in sugar and carbs, can also lead to yeast infections. For some dogs, yeast problems are seasonal, and when the temperature and humidity are high, problems with yeast can occur.
Since yeast thrives in a moist environment, dogs that are bathed or in water often are prone to yeast infections in the ear. If the ear is not kept dry, water and debris can become trapped inside the ear canal. Other causes for yeast infections in a dog’s ear include wax or discharge, a trapped foreign object inside the ear, poor hygiene, hot, humid weather, and the use of products or ear drops that alter the natural environment of the ear.
Too much exercise and spending time in the hot sun (which can be dangerous for other reasons as well) can also contribute to the overgrowth of yeast.
A veterinarian can confirm a definitive diagnosis through cytology or by culturing. Hair and skin samples can be taken from around the affected area and tested under a microscope to determine a yeast infection.
If the yeast infection is believed to be inside the ear, the veterinarian will use a device called an otoscope to look inside the ear canal. A sample may also be taken from in and around the ear to be examined under a microscope. This will help further determine if the infection is caused by yeast, bacteria, or even both.
The first step in treatment is to identify and address the underlying cause of the yeast infection. Along with medication, at-home remedies can not only offer relief, but can also be a preventable measure.
At-home treatments can include the following:
Medicated baths. As long as there aren’t any secondary infections, an antifungal medicated shampoo can help to get the yeast infection under control. Wash your dog every 3-5 days for 2-12 weeks (or as long as directed by your veterinarian) for maximum effect.
Topical cream. If the infection is in a small area, you can apply an antifungal cream directly to the spot and cover. The medicated cream should come with specific instructions so follow carefully.
Clean your dog’s ears. Since the ears are one of the most common areas for a yeast infection, it’s important to keep them clear and clean. Using a dog-ear cleaning solution designed to lower pH levels, gently clean the ear with a soft tissue or cotton ball (do not put Q-tips down into the ear canal), and if necessary, apply a yeast infection cream inside the ear as directed.
If the infection is deeper inside the ear canal, oral medication and possibly surgery might be required; only your veterinarian can determine the course of action in this situation. Serious yeast infections inside the ear can take up to six weeks to heal.
Keep paws clean and dry. A dog’s sweat glands are primarily located in the paws, so it’s smart to wipe down after long or vigorous exercise. Plus, the paws come into contact with dirt frequently, especially when outside for walks or playtime, so it’s another reason to keep them clean.
Examine your dog’s diet. A healthy diet is key and the foundation for good health. Yeast loves sugar so avoid foods and treats loaded with refined carbohydrates like potatoes, corn, wheat, rice, honey, and high-fructose corn syrup should be cut out of your dog’s diet. You should also avoid giving your dog any table food.
The only home remedy for yeast infections in dogs that has any scientific data to support it is a vinegar rinse. A vinegar rinse is able to help change the pH of the skin to make it less desirable for yeast. The proper dilution is essential to avoid irritation. You should only attempt this after speaking with your veterinarian for guidance and direction.
Is there a cure for yeast infection in dogs?
While yeast infections can be cured, some dogs are prone to recurrent infections. The best way to prevent a possible occurrence is to take care of your dog’s immune system properly. When you treat the root of the problem, you are not only taking care of the possible yeast infection but other potential skin issues that are a result of problems that originate in the digestive tract.
Are yeast infections in dogs contagious for humans or other pets?
If your dog has a yeast infection, the yeast cells cannot be transmitted to another pet even if they come in direct contact with the infected dog’s skin. What should be noted is that a yeast infection can lead to a secondary bacterial or fungus infection, which may be contagious in some cases. This holds true for humans as well; secondary infections, such as ringworm, are contagious and owners should take precaution when directly handling their dog.
What is the cost of treating yeast infection in dogs?
To treat a yeast infection in your dog, take into consideration the type of treatment needed (oral vs. topical medications), the area in which you live in (certain cities have a higher cost of living), and the type of veterinarian (general practitioner vs. veterinary dermatologist) you plan to visit. Prescription medications tend to cost more than over-the-counter medicine, while home remedies, if recommended, might be a bit lower. Also take into consideration how long and how much medicine your dog will need and whether the treatment is only for a yeast infection or whether medication is needed for an extended period to alleviate an underlying issue. These issues all play a role in determining the actual cost.
Recovery depends on the severity of the infection. If it’s mild and caught in the early stages, it can clear up in a few days. If it’s a severe infection, it can take up to a few weeks to completely heal.
Managing a yeast infection requires continuous monitoring of your dog’s immune system. Frequent baths with antifungal shampoo and sprays will help soothe the skin, although you should check with your veterinarian before beginning any at-home treatments.
Although yeast infections in dogs are mostly unpredictable, certain triggers can lead to an overgrowth of yeast. Being aware of those stressors will help keep your dog’s health under control.
A few tips to help prevent yeast infections:
Keep your pup indoors during extreme heat and humidity.
Feed a good quality food and be aware of any food allergies.
Keep the ears clean and healthy with regular checks.
Ensure your dog is completely dry, including paws and ears after a bath or swim.
If your dog has hair at the opening of his ears, have your groomer trim or tweeze it.
Use flea and tick preventatives as directed by your veterinarian.
Is there a vaccine for yeast infections in dogs?
There is no vaccine to prevent a yeast infection, but there are precautions owners can take to lower the risk of one.
Yeast infections are a common skin concern for dogs, causing itching and irritation. They typically occur in moist environments, like on the skin or in the ears or even the folds of their face. Often caused by allergies, yeast infections should be treated promptly, to avoid secondary infections and alleviate your dog’s discomfort. As some dogs can be prone to recurrent yeast infections, it’s important to identify the root cause and take precautions ahead of time to protect their immune system.