Have you noticed your dog itching more, or have you noticed that they have a funny smell? A skin yeast infection, an extremely common skin disease in dogs, could be the culprit.
Any dog can get a skin yeast infection, no matter their age, breed, or size. If you talk with other dog owners about yeast infections, you’ll quickly learn that they are the bane of their existence. This is because skin yeast infections are complicated to treat, and they can keep coming back despite the use of multiple (and sometimes pricey!) medications.
Luckily for dog parents, advancements in scientific research point to a promising method for treating yeast infections at their source. In this article, we will cover important information about dog yeast infections, including what causes them, and how dog owners can effectively treat them.
How Can You Tell Your Dog Has a Yeast Infection?
The two most common tell-tale signs of a skin yeast infection are an increase in itching and a musty odor. Dogs most commonly get yeast infections on their paws, ears, groin, and underarms, so they may scratch these areas more. However, yeast infections can occur anywhere on the skin. The smell that comes with a skin infection is a musty odor, which some pet parents liken to the scent of corn chips or stale bread.
As an infection progresses, a dog’s skin can undergo some noticeable changes. It may become red, crusty, and scabby from over-scratching, leading to it peel off in a way similar to flaky dandruff. Hair loss may occur in areas where dogs have over-scratched.
Some dogs get a waxy residue buildup around the inside of their ears due to yeast overgrowth. This can lead to an increase in head shaking as their dogs try to relieve the itch from inside their ears. It’s important for dog parents to clean out ear residue regularly to prevent additional bacterial infections in the ear canal.
How Your Veterinarian Diagnoses A Yeast Infection
Your veterinarian (DVM) will take a sample of the skin surface to look at under a microscope. This can be done a few ways, such as with a skin scraping, pressing a portable microscope against the skin, taking a swab of the affected area, or sticking clear acetate tape against the skin. These methods are non-invasive and don’t cause any pain. Less commonly, they may take a skin biopsy, which involves a poke with a needle.
Is It Contagious?
A skin yeast infection is generally not contagious from dog to dog or from dog to human, but it can spread between body parts on the same dog.
How Do Dogs Get Yeast Dermatitis?
Skin yeast infections are caused by the overgrowth of Malassezia pachydermatis, a fungus that is normally found at low levels on dog’s skin. Scientists call this yeast an ‘opportunistic pathogen’, which means that it can easily overgrow given the right conditions.
Malassezia thrive in warmer temperatures and in the excess oil produced on the skin. This explains why some dog parents notice yeast infections reoccur seasonally when the weather gets warmer.
For some dogs, these infections can persist for a long period of time; in others, the infection can come and go. This is due to the opportunistic nature of Malassezia – when conditions are right, they can grow out of control. Keep reading to learn how to break the cycle of chronic yeast infections and treat their root cause.
Some Breeds Are More Susceptible to Yeast Infections
Dog breeds with floppy ears and skin folds are more likely to get skin yeast infections because the fungus thrives in the warm, moist environment of these areas. Owners of basset hounds, cocker spaniels, terriers, poodles, labrador retrievers, french bulldogs, and other dogs prone to oily pockets should practice regular cleaning of these areas to mitigate the risk of infection.
Yeast Infections Are Caused By An Immune System Issue
We know that yeast thrives in particular environments outside of the body, so what does the immune system have to do with yeast infections? In most cases, yeast infections occur because of overactive immune function. An overactive immune system triggers inflammation, which creates warmth in and on a dog’s body. And since yeast grows best in warm environments, it grows particularly well at sites on a dog’s body where the skin is thinner and the surface temperature is warmer, such as the ears, armpits or the groin area.
Yeast infections can also occur when the immune system under-reacts to an infection, although this is far less common. For example, the immune system of a dog on corticosteroids or immunosuppressive medication may not respond properly to an infection or other immune challenge. The yeast population can then grow out of control.
In short, yeast thrives on dogs with an imbalanced immune system. Therefore, restoring normal immune system function is key to treating the root cause of yeast infections.
Your Dog’s Gut Health Influences Inflammation and Allergies
Immune System Function Happens in the Gut
An estimated 70% of your dog’s immune system function is located in their gut. The bacteria that live in your dog’s gut are hard at work protecting your dogs from germs that can make them sick. Gut bacteria also generate important molecules to keep the immune system running smoothly.
When an immune system threat is detected, gut bacteria respond by generating inflammation to fight it. Problems arise with normal immune system function when there are too many perceived threats on a regular basis, which leaves your dog’s body in a chronic state of inflammation.
There are hundreds of different kinds of bacteria that live in the gut, and they each play a unique role in your dog’s health. Sometimes there aren’t enough beneficial bacteria, or the beneficial bacteria may be missing entirely. Such imbalances can happen after a course of antibiotics or a diet change, for example.
An imbalanced gut bacterial community leaves dogs particularly susceptible to abnormal immune system function, and therefore at an increased risk for inflammation.
The Cycle of Inflammation
In the case of yeast infections (Malassezia dermatitis), it can be a vicious cycle. An immune reaction causes inflammation, the inflammation generates heat in the body, the yeast flourishes on the warm skin, the skin becomes itchy, scratching the itchy skin creates grooves and and more body oil that yeast thrive in, the immune system generates inflammation to combat the overgrowth of yeast… and the cycle continues.
Let’s Talk About Allergies
An allergy is a broad term used to describe something that triggers an overactive immune response in your dog’s body. There are a lot of potential allergies in your dog’s environment that could be causing them to be in a state of excess inflammation. And an environment with excess inflammation is a perfect home for yeast.
Exposure to allergens can make dogs more prone to yeast infections. Seasonal allergies to pollen, atopic dermatitis (a similar skin condition), mites, and certain ingredients in your dog’s food are among the most common triggers of inflammation for your dog.
How To Treat Yeast Infections At The Source
Veterinarians will often prescribe medications that help alleviate the itchiness and other symptoms of a yeast skin infection. These may include topical treatments, such as antifungal shampoo or ointments, to get rid of excess oil and treat the overgrowing fungus. Most commonly, these contain ingredients like miconazole, ketoconazole, or chlorhexidine as the main active ingredient, and they are applied directly to the infected areas.
In recurrent or more severe infections, veterinarians may recommend oral antifungal treatments, such as ketoconazole, itraconazole, or fluconazole. While these symptom-treating medications have their value, it’s important to remember skin yeast infections can keep coming back until the underlying cause is treated. So, how do you treat the root cause?
First, Break the Cycle of Inflammation
Breaking the cycle of inflammation can come from many angles. It’s important to remove allergens from your pooch’s environment and diet that may be triggering a hyper-active immune response. Antifungal medications can help treat itchy skin by allowing it to heal and stop producing excess oil in response to over-scratching. Keeping your dog’s skin cooler, especially in warmer climates, can mitigate the growth of yeast as well.
The real secret to breaking the cycling of inflammation for good lies in the gut.
Test Your Dog’s Gut For a Bacterial Imbalance
The gut microbiome is a term that refers to the community of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live inside the GI tract. This community is considered to have an imbalance if it is missing too many beneficial bacteria, or if it has too many harmful bacteria. Many scientific research studies have highlighted the connection between imbalanced microbiomes and skin conditions due to inflammation.
Microbiome testing is a simple tool that provides detailed insight into your dog’s gut bacterial community. The test can identify if they have an imbalance and can identify specific bacteria known to be associated with inflammation.
DoggyBiome’s Gut Health Test not only outlines a clear report of your dog’s gut health; it also offers customized recommendations about how to resolve any imbalances. Many imbalances can be resolved with simple dietary adjustments, and testing can take the guesswork out of what changes should be made.
Focus on Diet
Your dog’s diet feeds their gut bacteria. Because gut bacteria play such a critical role in proper immune function, we can’t stress enough how important the ingredients in your dog’s food are for a healthy immune system.
Removing obvious allergens from your dog’s diet is important for controlling inflammation. Your veterinarian may recommend a prescription diet to reduce your dog’s exposure to common allergens. Food allergies and intolerances may not always show symptoms, but they can trigger enough low-lying gut inflammation such that the immune system is easily ‘tipped’ into a hyperactive state.
There is a lot that goes into choosing the best diet for your dog, but a general rule of thumb is to aim for lots of protein and limited carbohydrates. Yeast especially loves to eat carbs and sugar, so don’t forget to also check your dog’s treats for these ingredients!
Support Gut Bacteria
To treat skin yeast infections at their source, your dog’s gut bacteria need to be in a healthy balance and fed the appropriate foods. While your dog’s diet is a key factor in gut health, there are many other ways to support your dog’s beneficial bacteria that regulate healthy immune response.
Gut supplemental support can be split into three general categories: prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics. Prebiotics are a form of fiber that feed beneficial gut bacteria. These are easy to supplement in a dog’s diet. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria and yeast that are key players in a balanced gut. Lastly, postbiotics are helpful molecules generated by beneficial bacteria in the gut to grow and communicate with each other.
How To Choose The Right Prebiotic, Probiotic, or Postbiotic
The gut is a complicated ecosystem, so introducing just any biotic supplement likely won’t have a meaningful impact on your dog’s gut. At AnimalBiome, we have researched effective combinations of pre, pro, and post biotics to help restore dog gut health.
Dog parents have found that DoggyBiome™ ImmuneShield™ with Epicor® Chews are a delicious treat that have reduced skin symptoms in their dogs. This postbiotic-based supplement pairs well with DoggyBiome™ S. boulardii + FOS Powder, a pre and probiotic-based supplement that has been shown to improve many symptoms associated with inflammation in dogs.
Can the probiotic yeast S. boulardii help with your dog’s skin infection?
While it isn’t yet well studied, scientists believe that probiotic yeast can help reduce infection-causing yeast by competing with it for vital resources. A study published in MDPI’s Journal of Fungi found this to be the case for pesky Candida infections, another type of infectious yeast. The researchers found that S. boulardii not only made it physically difficult for Candida to become overgrown, but also released metabolites that made it difficult for the Candida infection to persist.
A 2022 study published in Veterinary Sciences found that while S. boulardii supplementation improved gut health, it actually increased the amount of Malassezia pachydermatis – the yeast that is the culprit in canine skin infections – in the feces of dogs. Scientists still don’t understand if there is a connection between the amount of Malassezia in the intestinal tract and the skin in dogs. All this to say is, we, as scientists, are still learning. And at AnimalBiome, we will keep our readers posted on the science as it happens.
In some cases, dogs may have too severe of a gut bacterial imbalance for supplementation and dietary changes to restore their gut health. Luckily, there are still options to improve gut health for these dogs. A Fecal Microbiota Transplant (FMT) is a process where a healthy donor’s stool is transferred into the intestinal tract of a sick dog. FMTs introduce a healthy, balanced community of bacteria into the gut. With this new community comes normal, healthy immune function and a break in the cycle of inflammation.
While FMTs can be performed by enema at some veterinary clinics, the easiest way to restore your dog’s gut health this way is to give them Oral FMT capsules. Dr. Kerem Ural found that DoggyBiome™ Gut Restore Supplement (oral FMT capsules) were a safe and effective treatment for canine atopic dermatitis, a condition that has been associated with Malassezia.
How to Help Prevent Yeast Infections in Dogs
Effectively preventing yeast infections involves mitigating possible immune system triggers and caring for your dog’s gut health. Yeast love warm, oily pockets of the skin, so keeping your dog’s ears and skin folds clean helps prevent yeast overgrowth.
Work with your veterinarian to ensure your dog’s diet and environment are not introducing allergens that may trigger inflammation. And lastly, support your dog’s bacteria with a healthy diet and supplementation for optimal gut health.
- Yeast infections are a sign of a underlying problem with immune system function
- Fungal infections of the skin can go away and come back
- Allergies are a common cause of skin yeast infections, which can also be cyclical in nature
- While some topical and oral medications can help with the symptoms of a yeast infection, the most effective treatment requires rebalancing the gut
- The bacteria that make up the gut microbiome can be supported with a healthy diet and supplementation to regulate inflammation and the immune system
Do you have an itchy dog? Are you frustrated by their skin yeast infection that keeps coming back? Get in touch with us about your dog’s symptoms! We’d love to help you figure out the best place to start for your dog’s path to recovery.
Questions You Can Ask Your Veterinarian
- What are the most common food allergies?
- Can you please help me determine if my dog has any food allergies or intolerances?
- My dog has floppy ears/wrinkly skin. How can I keep these areas clean at home?
- How do I recognize the early signs of inflammation in my dog?
- What are safe ways to get rid of the musty smell while treating my dog?
- What do you think is the best treatment plan for my dog’s skin problems? Should we treat my dog’s yeast infections from many angles at once or one treatment at a time?