If your dog’s ears smell a bit rank or her paws remind you of Fritos whose best before date has come and gone, then you could have a yeast infection on your hands. All dogs have yeast; they have to because it occurs naturally and is as important as all those other healthy flora and bacteria that keep bodies balanced.
Unfortunately, sometimes that balance gets out of whack and yeast levels grow to unhealthy levels with all sorts of uncomfortable side-effects for your dog.
What causes yeast infections in dogs?
There are 3 basic causes of yeast infections in dogs:
- Immune system problems (overactive and underactive immune functioning)
- Certain medication, like steroidal and antibiotic treatment
All of these can occur independently or they can be inter-related. For example, severe allergies are often caused by an overactive immune system, and they may be treated with steroid therapy. This lowers immune functioning, which means the system isn’t able to keep flora levels in balance. This creates an ideal environment for yeast to thrive.
Some dogs can even be allergic to their natural yeast, which makes treatment quite interesting. Intradermal tests are necessary to determine whether dogs are allergic to their natural flora.
Pesky yeast species
One of the species of yeast that causes the most common type of yeast infections in dogs is malassezia. There are more serious fungal infections that are also caused by yeast-like flora, which affect lungs, liver, bones, eyes, brain, spleen and other internal organs. Malassezia can be transformed from friendly flora into fiend by food allergies, allergy to fleas, inhalants in the environment, hormonal disorders, and moist biological environments, like excessive wrinkles and skin folds in certain breeds.
Another species of yeast that causes infections in dogs is candida, and it can cause infections in your dog’s mouth, nose ears, and gastrointestinal and genital tracts. This type of yeast infection (candidiassis) can also occur in one area of the body or it can affect the whole body (systemic infection). This type is commonly caused by skin trauma and other illnesses and infections.
In some cases, dogs are only mildly affected – perhaps only one paw or one ear presents with a yeast infection – but more often than not the infection occurs all over the body, including all paws, both ears, and the skin (especially around the armpits and groin). Even internal organs can suffer from yeast infections.
Breeds more at risk to yeast infections (especially in their ears) include:
- Cocker spaniels
- German shepherds
- West highland white terriers
- Golden retrievers
- Australian terrier
- Maltese terrier
- Shetland sheepdog
- Lhasa apso
Symptoms of yeast infection in dogs
The signs of a yeast infection vary depending on where the infection is located; the most common signs are itching and scratching, but other symptoms to look out for include:
- Chewing or licking feet (paw yeast infections)
- Drooling (oral yeast infections)
- Rusty red hair between paw pads – yeast causes the discolouration
- Brown, yellow or bloody discharge (ear yeast infections)
- Old cheese or mouldy bread smell
- Redness or other skin irritations, including swelling
- Crusty skin on ears
- Greasy coat
- Scaly skin (Malassezia dermatitis)
- Open sores (candidiasis)
- Loss of hair around the ears, tail and back
- Shaking or tilting the head
- Loss of hearing
- Loss of balance and trouble walking
Yeast infections are diagnosed by skin swabs or skin cultures, biopsies, and urine samples.
Symptoms of yeast infections in your dog’s internal organs include:
- Coughing/difficulty breathing
- Nasal discharge
- Loss of appetite
- Corneal ulcers
- Neurological signs, including seizures
Diagnosis is usually via x-rays or blood tests. Systemic anti-fungal medication is needed to treat the infection.
How to treat yeast infections in dogs
If you really want to get rid of yeast infections in dogs you have to adopt a multi-pronged approach, including diet, topical treatment and disinfecting infected areas.
It’s also important to realise the yeast infections can be persistent and recurring, so you have to keep up treatment for a couple of months, and then keep a careful eye on your dog so you can remedy the situation as soon as you suspect an infection is setting in. Remember, many dogs suffer most from yeast infections in summer, when it is hot and humid and they sweat more and swim often.
Yeast, like many people, loves sugar. It thrives on it, so you need to remove sugar from your yeasty dog’s diet. Unfortunately, most commercial foods, even the very good ones contain hidden sugar, which is found in starch and carbohydrates. Good dry dog foods may contain veggies, like sweet potatoes, that are high on the glycaemic index and which break down into sugar quickly. Lesser quality dog foods often contain grains, corn, wheat or rice, which are all carbohydrates and which all break down into sugar.
The best ‘anti-yeast’ diet for dogs is a raw food diet that is low in fat and contains low glycaemic vegetables. Dr Becker also recommends adding a some anti-fungal foods to your dog’s diet, such a dash of garlic or oregano, which are also anti-yeast foods. Just remember that garlic in largish doses is toxic to dogs, so make sure you really use a pinch only.
Dogs Naturally Magazine recommends that you add herbal support to your dog’s diet, including astragalus (liver support) and milk thistle seed (liver and kidney repair and support).
You should also start giving your dog a pet-specific probiotic to help maintain healthy gut flora. Good probiotics have at least 10 different strains, including L. Acidophilus, B. Bifidum and L. Rhamnosus, and pre-biotics. You can find powder probiotics that are easy to add to your dog’s food or water.
If the yeast infection is particularly bad, you can add canine digestive enzymes to the mix; they help balance nutrients and enzymes in your dog’s body.
Topical treatments are those that you apply to the problem areas or skin to get rid of yeast infections. If you’re really lucky and your dog only has yeast infection in her ears or on her paws, you might get away with simply treating those areas. Veterinarians may prescribe topical creams or salves which you apply to the yeasty areas, but there are also some natural home remedies that you can use to treat yeast infections in ears or paws. (Don’t use these home remedies without first consulting your veterinarian or a holistic veterinarian.)
A natural home remedy you can use to treat yeast infections in your dog’s ears is a simple solution with witch hazel (which you can also buy from chemists or vet shops). Moisten some cotton balls (they should not be dripping) and clean the inside of your dog’s ears. Don’t use cotton ear buds.
You will have to disinfect your dog’s ears every day (and possibly several times a day if the infection is severe) until they look clean and don’t smell yeasty. Then you can taper down to a few times a week and then once a week. Check your dog’s ears regularly to make sure that they remain infection free, and if you have a dog prone to yeast ear infections (dogs who swim a lot or have long droopy ears), keep a supply of disinfectant on hand so that if you catch a yeasty whiff, you can start preventative treatment straight away.
If your dog doesn’t like having her ears touched, use treats to change the way she feels about it.
Dunking your dog’s paws in a disinfectant solution is also a good way to treat yeast infections between paw pads. You can either pop your dog in the bathtub with some solution or use old ice-cream containers or other plastic dishes to wash each foot individually. A bath is still a good idea though. You can make your own solution of water, hydrogen peroxide and white vinegar (see Dr. Becker’s article for ratios). Dunk your dog’s feet, let them soak for a bit and pat them dry. You’ll need to do this at least once a day to get rid of the infection.
Bathing your dog with special anti-fungal shampoo is also necessary, according to Dr. Becker, because when yeast dies, it forms a layer under which more yeast can grow, and you could end up with several layers of dead yeast with a thriving infection below. You need to get rid of the dead yeast to effectively treat the problem, and that’s where bathing comes in.
There are a range of anti-fungal shampoos that are safe for regular use on dogs, so you don’t have to worry about stripping your dog’s coat of its natural oils (and natural flora). Look for shampoo that contains natural anti-fungal ingredients, like tea tree oil.
You can also make your own anti-fungal rinse which you can use in between and after baths. Dr. Becker recommends a gallon of water and a cup or either vinegar or lemon juice (and 20 drops of peppermint oil for a pleasant scent). Pour the rinse down your dog’s back from her collar to her tail and rub it in, especially around yeast-prone areas like the armpits, groin and tail.
Dogs Naturally Magazine recommends you keep a squeeze bottle of apple cider vinegar around so that you can regularly squeeze the vinegar onto your dog’s coat and massage it into her skin. The magazine also suggests a weekly massage with a mixture of coconut oil, lavender oil and lemon essential oil. See the article for ratios.
The most important things to remember about yeast infections in dogs are:
- The prognosis for treatment is usually good, provided you stick to the schedule and regularly check your dog for signs of subsequent infections.
- The longer yeast infections go untreated the more difficult they are to cure, so if you suspect you dog might have an infection, see your veterinarian immediately.
- You might be able to knock back a yeast infection on your dog’s skin, or in her ears or paws, but unless you take steps to address problems in her diet, you might find that you’re constantly battling infection after infection. A change in diet is one of the most effective ways to combat yeast infections in dogs.