Used in baking and brewing, yeast is a common fungus that exists in the air and on human and animal bodies. Most of the time, we're unaware of the presence of yeast. However, when these fungi grow out of control, they demand our attention. Just like people can experience an overgrowth of yeast, our canine friends can develop yeast infections on their skin, ears, or paws. Known as yeast dermatitis, these common infections may be uncomfortable, but you can treat yeast infections and prevent future infections from occurring.
Although any dog can get a yeast infection, breeds with wrinkly faces like Boxers are more prone to them because the fungi thrive on the moisture between the skin folds. Breeds with soft, floppy ears, including Shih Tzus, Cocker Spaniels, Bassets Hounds, English Setters, Poodles, and Dachsunds, are also susceptible to yeast infections. Finally, West Highland White Terriers, Australian Silky Terriers with their silky fur, may get yeast infections more often than other dogs.
Scratching and licking could indicate that your pup is itchy, a telltale symptom of a yeast infection. Dogs may also rub their faces when itchy. Yeast infections can also cause loss of fur. Other signs that you might be dealing with a yeast infection include red, oily, or flaking skin. When ears are infected, they may produce a brown discharge. You may also notice a sweet or musty smell. If your dog has repeated yeast infections, the skin may thicken or change colors or darken.
In dogs, yeast infections are secondary illnesses, which means that there is usually another health concern that has allowed the yeast to spiral out of control. Anything that disrupts your dog's natural skin barrier may be the primary condition. Vets call yeast infections opportunistic for this reason. This is why dogs with food and environmental allergies are more prone to yeast infections. Similarly, dogs with hormonal imbalances and conditions that suppress their immune system may frequently develop yeast infections.
Because yeast can affect the ears and make dogs itchy, it's easy to mistake these infections for ear mites or vice versa. One of the biggest differences between these two infections is that mites cause a crusty, waxy discharge. Ear mites are difficult to see, so you may not be able to spot the mites themselves. A correct diagnosis is essential because these two conditions require different treatments and because other dogs can easily contract ear mites from an infected dog. Yeast infections can't be transmitted to other pets.
Your vet can quickly tell whether your dog has a yeast infection, ear mites, or something else. Vets will perform visual exams and swab or scrape the impacted areas and examine the results under a microscope to look for yeast in a process known as cytology. Other methods include using tape to capture suspected yeast, skin biopsy, and pressing the microscope slide directly to the skin. Cytology can be performed on ears, paws, or skin and takes a few minutes to diagnose. Once you have your diagnosis, your vet can recommend a course of action to treat your dog's yeast infection.
Vets will often recommend topical antifungal treatments as the first line of defense against yeast infections in dogs. If your dog has a more persistent yeast infection, your vet may recommend oral antifungal medicines instead.
You may notice that your dog's yeast infection clears up before you have used all the medication or topical products. However, this doesn't mean you should stop treating the infection because yeast may remain on your dog's skin and make future infections more likely. It's important to use the full course of treatment, just like you would when taking antibiotics as prescribed by your doctor. Topical treatments must be reapplied every 3 to 5 days for up to twelve weeks and no less than two weeks to clear up a yeast infection. Your vet will provide specific guidance based on the severity of your dog's infection.
While antifungal treatments are the best course of action when your dog has a yeast infection, you may be able to combat yeast infections with a vinegar rinse. This method changes the pH of your dog's skin to make it less inviting to the fungus. However, if you don't properly dilute the vinegar, it can irritate your dog's skin. Even if you decide to treat your dog with a vinegar rinse at home, it's important to consult your vet.
Like many conditions, yeast infections have become a prime target for at-home remedies. However, the majority of these remedies are unproven and may even cause other issues for your pup. Neither coconut oil, witch hazel, tea tree oil, hydrogen peroxide, or essential oils have been proven effective when used topically on a dog with a yeast infection. Furthermore, there is no research that shows feeding a dog yogurt, probiotics, coconut oil, fermented vegetables, herbs, or foods free from yeast or carbohydrates will prevent or treat yeast infections.
Prevention is always preferable to treatment when it comes to yeast infections. You can regularly bathe your pup with antifungal shampoo, including the same one used to treat the initial infection. However, the shampoo must remain on the dog's skin for at least 10 minutes to be effective. If you have a wrinkly dog, cleaning the folds to prevent moisture buildups makes them less hospitable to yeast. Your veterinarian may also recommend desensitizing dogs that are allergic to yeast by exposing them to yeast in small doses in vaccines.
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