Yeast Infections in Dogs: How to Spot & Treat It

Published January 19, 2022
Dog cleaning his paw

If you're wondering whether dogs can get yeast infections on their skin, the answer is yes. An overgrowth of yeast organisms can often lead to itching, licking, odor, and dark pigmentation of the skin. If you suspect your dog has a yeast infection, a trip to the veterinarian is warranted. Next, you can begin to administer medication and at-home treatment, and take preventive measures to control and eliminate the infection. Discover if your dog is one of the breeds most prone to these types of infections and how you can provide them with relief.

What Are Yeast Infections in Dogs?

Skin yeast infections in dogs are typically referred to as yeast dermatitis. These skin infections are caused by an overgrowth of a naturally occurring fungus that lives on a dog's skin. Much of the time, these organisms live on the skin without causing problems, but under certain conditions, they'll overgrow and create a smelly, yeasty mess.

How to Identify a Yeast Infection

Dog leg with wound from fungus

Many skin conditions in dogs tend to present with similar signs, so it can be tricky to identify yeast dermatitis. Aside from the physical appearance, these infections often have a distinct smell that occurs alongside these recognizable characteristics:

  • Hyperpigmentation (darkening of the skin)
  • Leathery "elephant" skin
  • Musty, sweet odor
  • Itching, chewing, licking, or scratching
  • Flakey, crusted, or greasy skin
  • Red, irritated skin
  • Hair loss
  • Salivary staining on fur
  • Chronic ear infections

Commonly Affected Areas

A dog can develop a yeast infection on any area of skin. However, these tend to occur in places where there's skin-to-skin contact or trapped moisture.

  • Between skin folds
  • Within the ears
  • Armpits
  • Groin
  • Belly
  • Between toes and paw pads

What Causes Skin Yeast Infections in Dogs?

There are several reasons why a dog might develop one of these infections. Often, there's an underlying medical condition, but changes to the skin's environment (such as the introduction of moisture) can also trigger an overgrowth of yeast. Some of the common causes include:

  • Environmental or food allergies
  • Flea allergy dermatitis
  • Trapped moisture
  • Overproduction of skin oils
  • Poor grooming
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Compromised immune system
  • Genetic predisposition

Dog Breeds Prone to Yeast

Certain canine breeds may be more prone to yeast infections than others due to a genetic predisposition:

Other breeds may be at higher risk due to their loose skin and numerous folds.

Getting a Diagnosis

While you can use the common characteristics of dog yeast infections to help identify this condition, testing is necessary to get a definitive diagnosis. These aren't usually extensive or painful tests. Typically, your veterinarian can diagnose a yeast overgrowth through a few non-invasive methods.

  • Impression smear: For this diagnostic, a slide is usually pressed against the skin, then a microscope is used to identify any yeast organisms. Sometimes, a piece of adhesive tape is pressed against the skin, then stained similar to the slide preparation. Neither of these methods is uncomfortable for your dog.
  • Skin scrape: Your vet may recommend a skin scrape to collect a deeper sample. To do this, a blade is used to gently scrape the skin and collect material from the hair follicle. This can also rule out the presence of any skin parasites like mites. A skin scrape will often leave the area irritated with some bleeding.
  • Skin biopsy: In more involved cases, it may be necessary to collect a piece of skin for analysis. The area is numbed, and your dog may be sedated or anesthetized depending on their comfort level.
  • Ear cytology: If a yeast infection is suspected in the ear, your veterinarian will carefully take samples using a swab, then examine these under a microscope.

Treatment Options

After determining that your dog is suffering from a skin yeast infection, there are a few ways to approach treatment.

hand smearing ointment to the paw of dog

Topical Approach

A topical treatment -- such as a medicated shampoo, spray, or ointment -- is usually the first line of defense in combating these infections. Many of these treatments can be found over the counter or at your veterinary office, although you should always confirm with your vet before using one. Never use human products on your dog.

  • Shampoo: Cleansing the skin (either a specific region or the whole dog if the infection is widespread) with a medicated antifungal shampoo should work to remove oils from the skin and kill the yeast. Follow instructions carefully, because most of these shampoos must sit on the skin for several minutes before rinsing. Often, another topical product will be used in combination with routine bathing.
  • Spray: Yeast infections can sometimes respond to spot treatments with an antifungal spray. These products provide relief from itchiness or irritation while containing ingredients that address the yeast organisms. Some owners elect to use a diluted apple cider vinegar spray, though this shouldn't be applied to broken skin or wounds. Keep your dog from licking any spray off by using a cone.
  • Ointment: Ointments and creams containing antifungal ingredients are common in addressing yeast dermatitis. Use a dog-specific product and wear gloves when applying it to prevent introducing bacteria to the skin. A dog cone should be placed on your dog to prevent them from ingesting the ointment.
  • Ear cleansers: If the yeast infection is within the ear canal, it's important to use a product designed specifically for this area.

Oral Medication

If a yeast infection is more severe, your veterinarian may prescribe an antifungal medication. Most drugs that end in -azole (ketoconazole, itraconazole, fluconazole) are systemic antifungals that your vet may recommend. These medications are typically given for one to three months or longer based on the infection. Some of the drugs can potentially affect liver function, so blood work before, during, and after the course of medicine may be necessary. In some cases, a secondary bacterial infection can occur, so antibiotics may be prescribed.

Preventing Canine Yeast Infections

There are a few preventive measures you can implement to help keep skin yeast infections at bay. These are particularly important if your dog is one of the breeds prone to this dermatitis or has an underlying condition.

  • Groom your dog regularly to promote healthy skin.
  • Thoroughly dry your dog's skin and ears after bathing or swimming.
  • Use medicated canine wipes on skin folds (for wrinkly breeds).
  • Feed a high-quality diet.
  • Use a veterinarian-recommended flea prevention.
  • Keep a close eye on your dog's skin during the summer and in humid environments.

Keep Dog Yeast Infections at Bay

While these treatments will get the yeast infection under control, it's important to address any underlying causes. Use preventive measures to keep your dog from developing an uncomfortable yeast infection and see your veterinarian to treat any suspected allergies or systemic conditions.

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Yeast Infections in Dogs: How to Spot & Treat It