Yeast Infections: Causes and Treatments
By Jonathan David
Yeast infections can creep up at just about anytime it seems. I’ve seen yeast infections develop in a dog’s ears, around toes and pads, around a dog’s more “private areas” and even on a dog’s body!
Yeast infections are a common and aggressive fungal infection sometimes found on our furry clients. But why do dogs get them?
Yeasts are spore–like forms of fungi that, under the right conditions, can flourish into infections of the skin or ears. Symptoms typically include itchy, crusty and smelly skin with a yellowish discharge. The yeast spores are commonly present and can live on healthy, normal skin, but most dogs have immune defenses that will keep the spores from proliferating into an infection.
When the spores are in small numbers, it’s easy for a dog’s body to fight, but sometimes the skin surface conditions change, giving the spores an opportunity to proliferate into an infection. This type of yeast infection is called Malassezia Dermatitis.
There can be several situations that can cause a dog’s natural immune defenses to lose the battle against these yeast spores. The most common cause is an increase in skin oils. This creates a moist and oily breeding ground combined with a dog’s body heat which is an excellent situation for yeast to flourish.
Increased oils can be caused by allergies, dermatological issues or poor quality shampoos that strip the healthy oils from the skin, causing the dog to try to overcompensate for the loss of moisture by producing extra oils quickly. Allergies and dermatological conditions can overwork the immune system and cause a response that suppresses the immune system, allowing for the skin to become inflamed and causing overproduction of oil, which is an ideal situation for yeast growth.
Another common area we see yeast is around the toes and nails beds. This type of yeast infection of the foot is called Canine Pododermatitis. The reason that this is a common place for yeast to flourish is because feet are frequently moist and frequently come in contact with yeast spores that are on grass, soil or any surface your dog walks on. Symptoms of a yeast infection of the foot can include itching, redness, excessive licking, greasy discharge and occasionally a brown discoloration of the nails. The excessive licking can cause redness and swelling around the nail bed and the moisture from the licking can exasperate the yeast infection. The yellowish discharge usually has a distinct odor and the brown discoloration of the nails is very easy to see on lighter colored nails and sometimes creates a brown crust that can be scraped off.
The third and most common area we see yeast infections in dogs is inside the ear canals and inner ear leathers. Contrary to popular belief, water does not cause yeast infections. The yeast spores have to already be present to start an infection, but the combination of water in the ear canal with the warmth of a dog’s body and the limited air flow to the ear canal all together create a perfect recipe for a yeast infection to flourish in the ears.
Dropped ears like we see in breeds like Cocker Spaniels, Poodles and Hounds are more prone to yeast infections in the ears because these types of ears fold over and prevent good airflow to the ear canal, which would assist in evaporating the moisture.
When yeast infections take a hold within the ear canal, a dog may be seen scratching at their ears, rubbing their ears on carpeting or furniture, or tilting and shaking their head in an effort to relive the itching. When they shake their head, the yeast can spread to the inside flap of the ear leather which would cause the skin to become enflamed and crusty, and the ear canal can become red in color. In severe cases, it could swell to the point of closing off the ear canal.
Often when your dog is suffering from a yeast infection of the ear and they scratch their ear, the yeast can spread to the nails through contact and eventually the nails can spread that infection to other areas of the body through scratching themselves with an infected nail. Left untreated, a yeast infection will spread over the entire body of the dog causing scaly, crusty skin, redness and swelling, foul odors and hair loss.
Treating yeast infections on dogs can be fairly easy if caught early. A veterinarian will diagnose the yeast through visual inspection or a skin scraping. Common treatments for cases of the skin include oral antibiotics, topical sprays and medicated shampoos and conditioners that inhibit yeast growth. Yeast infections of the feet are typically treated with oral antibiotics combined with pre–moistened medicated pads that you wipe down the feet and nail beds with several times a day, often combined with medicated shampoos used to wash the feet daily.
Infections of the ears can be a little harder to treat because of the limited airflow to the ear canals. Typically these types of yeast infections are treated with medicated drops applied to the ear canal two to three times a day, and sometimes in conjunction with oral antibiotics. It’s important to note that during treatment of yeast infections it is crucial to keep the areas being treated as dry as possible. This means completely drying the skin and hair when applying medicated shampoos and avoiding water within the ear canal during a bath to help speed the recovery process and to avoid a regrowth of the yeast. An ear canal can look better and smell better but can still harbor some of the yeast spores, so it’s advised to complete the entire treatment process to ensue complete recovery.
Don’t panic if you discover your dog or a client’s dog has a yeast infection—it’s not the end of the world—but it is a matter that needs to be dealt with promptly and aggressively. Now that you know how to handle the situation, you can say goodbye to yeast and hello to happy clients! ✂️