If you find that your dog has irritated and itchy skin or a presence of strong or bad odor, they could have a yeast infection. Yeast, which is actually a fungus, normally lives on the skin of dogs (and humans) without causing an irritation or illness. If there is an excess of the yeast on the body, that is when issues can arise.
The yeast living on dog skin is typically called Malassezia pachydermatitis. This is the yeast that can also cause skin and ear infections. Malassezia is an opportunistic pathogen (an infectious micro-organism). This implies that it normally does not harm its host (your dog in this case) but can cause disease when something else creates an imbalance between the yeast and the host. This includes situations when the host body’s resistance is low.
Since it resides on the skin, yeast can cause problems on the belly, paws, and ears of dogs. In fact, yeast infections can affect any part of skin, including multiple areas at the same time.
Signs of Yeast Infections
If your dog shows any of these symptoms, get them in to see a vet or a pet skin specialist right away.
- Changes in colour and texture. Due to skin infection, there may be a change in appearance of the skin. Some visual changes can include redness (or more pink than usual), dark skin, and grey colour to skin.
- Thick skin. Skin may become leathery and thick. This may occur slowly over time, or can develop rapidly sometimes.
- Greasy Skin. If your dog’s skin is excessively oily or greasy, this could be due to a yeast infection. Oily skin may also make it more likely for the yeast infection to become a problem.
- Scaly Skin. Skin signs such as crusting, scaling, or flakiness can be associated with yeast.
- Head Shaking. Ears are a common location for yeast infections in dogs. A yeast ear infection can cause your dog to shake or tilting of their head due to discomfort.
- Itching, Licking, and Rubbing. A yeast infection can cause an irritating itch. You may find your dog itching. Symptoms of an itchy dog include scratching the affected area, rubbing up against furniture or another surface, licking, biting at the skin, or scooting across the floor. Itchiness of ears also includes shaking the head or ears.
- Swelling and Warmth. Redness and itching are the initial signs of a yeast infection, which can progress to swelling, warmth, and pain at the area.
- Odor. Odor is regarded as a common sign by some. Some people are quite sensitive about changes in their pet’s general odor.
- Hair Loss. Yeast infection, along with its associated itch and inflammation, can cause hair loss.
Causes of Yeast Infections
A yeast infection is always caused by an underlying problem or pre-existing condition.
Underlying causes of yeast infections include:
- Hormonal disorders
- Environmental allergies
- Food allergy
- Drugs that suppress the immune system
- Antibiotic use
- External skin parasites such as mites
- Other skin disorders
There are many disorders of the skin in dogs that appear the same. This includes skin itchiness, redness, and odor. Thus, a confirmed diagnosis of yeast infection is needed before appropriate treatment.
Please do not try to treat your dog at home without a proper diagnosis from your vet. Attempting to diagnose a yeast infection yourself can lead to uninformed treatments and continued discomfort to your pet.
A confirmed diagnosis of yeast is usually obtained by cytology testing. This involves a veterinarian collecting some superficial material from the skin to check under the microscope. It is a quick and easy test for vets and vet dermatologists that perform it regularly.
If skin infections are recurring in your pet, a visit to our animal dermatologist should be considered to ensure it resolves and stops recurring. This will include reviewing the diagnosis, finding out the nature of infection and also what the underlying cause of it is.
Allergies are one of the common causes of yeast infections. Thus, control of allergies is important for long term comfort for your dog. It is important to take care of any skin symptoms right away so as to relieve discomfort.
Treatment & Prevention
First and foremost, identifying and treating a yeast infection helps bring comfort to pets. Also, addressing the underlying cause is an important aspect of ensuring treatment success and preventing future yeast infection in dogs. This helps lessen the risk of relapse or chronically occurring skin problems.
For treatment, your dog may be prescribed an antifungal medication plan, which can include anti-fungal medication by mouth and/or dog shampoos or creams for treatment. Appropriate ear cleaners and medications can help treat ears topically.
Treatment varies based on age of pet, general health, body size, and breed of dog, among other factors. Each pet should be treated as an individual and the most effective, safe treatment plan is used. Treatment should always be decided in consultation with your family vet or veterinary dermatologist.
Yeast infection should never be treated just based on a suspicion. There can be certain indicators of yeast infection such as “yeasty odor” or “cheesy smell”, but these are not reliable. Only diagnostic confirmation using a microscope (or another test your vet may choose) should be relied upon, before starting yeast treatment.
For prevention sake, finding the underlying condition is key. Whether your dog has had one or multiple skin infections, the goal is always to help your dog get back on track with living a more comfortable, less itchy life!
Creative Commons Attribution: Permission is granted to repost this article in its entirety with credit to VetDERM Clinic and a clickable link back to this page.
Dr. Jangi Bajwa is a Board certified veterinary dermatologist at VetDERM Clinic in Surrey BC. He is also the dermatology feature editor for Canadian Veterinary Journal. Dr. Bajwa’s special interests include otitis and allergic disease in pets; as well as helping improve quality of life of pets and their families.