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canine health problems
dog with white paws in dirt

The essentials

  • The skin is an organ — And skin issues are the number one reason that dogs and cats end up at the vet
  • Yeast dermatitis or Malassezia dermatitis affects pawsThis is common in dogs and can affect the lip margins, ears, armpits, groin, the underside of the neck, and skin in between the toes.
  • Clinical signs vary but your dog may be uncomfortable — Signs include licking, chewing, scratching, and a ‘yeasty’ odor

Skin issues like yeast infections aren’t life-threatening. Yet this will cause dogs to lick their paws which is maddening for canines. A vet can diagnose Malassezia dermatitis by performing a tape impression test which means applying a piece of clear tape to the affected skin. Once the cause of the excessive licking is determined, then your vet will recommend a treatment plan for your dog.

What causes yeast dermatitis?

The most common organism that causes yeast infections in pups is Malassezia pachydermatis. “Malassezia pachydermatis is a commensal yeast that is normally present in low numbers…in dogs,” says vet experts with the Canadian Veterinary Journal. It’s normal to find a small number of these organisms on dogs. When a dog’s skin is unhealthy, it’s common for these organisms to quickly overpopulate, which causes a yeast infection.

Yeast dermatitis is very common in dogs and can affect the:

  • Interdigital skin in between the paws
  • Lips
  • Ears
  • Groin
  • Underneath the neck
  • Facial or tail folds
  • Perivuvlar skin
  • Perianal skin

👉 Your vet will diagnose and confirm your dog suffers from a yeast infection. 

Are some dog breeds more likely to get yeast infections?

Dogs of any breed can be susceptible to yeast infections. These five commonly affected breeds may end up at the vet a lot with skin issues:

  • Cocker spaniels
  • Basset hounds
  • West Highland white terriers
  • English springer spaniels
  • Shar-peis

What are the clinical signs?

Yeast infections have a very specific odor (usually very musty or cheesy smelling). If you smell your dog’s paws and suspect yeast, it’s time to see the vet. There are many signs pet owners need to watch for and all of these mean a vet appointment is likely the next step:

  • Excessive chewing and licking of paws. Dogs are often seen chewing and licking the red, irritated areas of their paws.
  • Pungent odor. The yeast odor is very pungent and you’ll probably be able to smell this right away especially when they lick and itch.
  • Red, irritated, and itchy paws. Always look for red and moist skin when you examine the paws.
  • Dark brown discoloration at the base of the toenails. It may seem odd but yeast infections may affect the nails. During regular grooming sessions it’s important to take a good look!
  • Flaky, crusty skin on the paws. You may find a yellow crusting and scaling, and the skin can become hyperpigmented on the paws.

Yeast infections may signal other problems

According to the Canadian Veterinary Journal, “Malassezia dermatitis in dogs is usually a secondary problem due to an underlying skin disease such as allergic disease (including canine atopic dermatitis and flea allergy dermatitis), recurrent bacterial pyoderma, and endocrine diseases (especially hypothyroidism)”. Yeast dermatitis occurs most commonly in animals with the following conditions and skin diseases:

  • Environmental allergies. Vets will ask about fleas, diet, and exposure to pollen.
  • Endocrine disorders like hypothyroidism or Cushing’s. Common symptoms of hypothyroidism are recurring ear and skin infections as well as unexplained weight gain. The common causes of Cushing’s disease are increased thirst, urination, panting, thinning of fur on rump and tail, and a pot-bellied appearance.
  • Food allergies. Always address any food allergies in your dog with your veterinarian.
  • Bacterial pyoderma. There’s typically a rancid odor, crusts, and pustules.

Diagnosis and treatments vary for red, yeasty paws 

Your vet will perform a series of tests to determine why the paws are infected. These tests rule out both fungal and bacterial infections. The actual diagnosis of Malassezia is determined after a vet performs skin cytology (studying skin cells under a microscope) or a tape impression test.

The tape is then removed and stained. The vet will then examine the stained tape under the microscope to see if yeast or bacteria are present on the skin. Once the cause of the compulsive licking is determined, your vet can create a treatment plan for your pup.

The treatment for Malassezia dermatitis usually involves topical therapy with antifungal shampoos, sprays, wipes, creams, and lotions or systemic treatments:

👉 It can take up to four weeks to treat yeast infections in dogs.

Our favorite topical spray: Dechra’s MiconaHex + Triz Spray Conditioner

This spray helps dogs with severe fungal diseases including yeast infections and localized infections like a dog’s paws. Pet owners rated this product 4.8 out of the 5 stars on Amazon. One pet parent shared that it “cleared up fungal and skin issues for our dog within 10 days.”

Ingredients: 2% Miconazole Nitrate,  2% Chlorhexidine

👉 Whenever you give something new to your dog, watch them closely for 24-48 hours. Call your vet if you notice any hives, vomiting, or diarrhea.

How to prevent yeasty doggie paws

If your dog is a breed that’s more likely to get yeast infections on the paws, you need to take extra steps to keep their paws dry. This is especially true during seasons when it rains a lot as that moisture can cause trouble. According to vet expert Dr. Diener, “It is also essential to prevent your dog from licking the paws. The saliva from a dog’s mouth easily gets trapped between the toes, leading to a moist environment for yeast to thrive.”

“As soon as you notice that your dog is licking the feet a lot, notify your vet so that anti-itch medication can be prescribed (like Apoquel or Cytopoint).”

Dr. Diener, DVM

Keep paws clean and dry

Always dry your dog’s paws off when they come in from a walk or the outdoors. Spend time getting between the toes and take a few minutes afterwards to ensure they’re not licking after you dry them off. A walk or hike may actually cause more irritation and your dog will start to lick their paws when you get them back to the house.

Yeast infections on the paws are common

Dog yeast infections are common in all breeds and wreak havoc on a pet’s skin. Pet owners need to check anytime their dog is seen licking and scratching their paws. Dogs may even show hair loss around their paw pads but the skin folds may be inflamed. Try smelling your pup’s paw pads as yeast or a yeast overgrowth has a very specific odor!

👉 Remember that yeast infections can only be diagnosed by a vet with diagnostic tests. 

It’s easy to forget that the skin is an organ 

Healthy skin is important to your pet’s health! Skin protects the internal tissues, regulates body temperature, and absorbs or secretes materials into and out of the environment. Skin is also one of the primary sensory organs.

A dog’s skin is also a sensitive organ, and mild inflammation can cause discomfort and affect quality of life. “Our pets are susceptible to hundreds of bacterial and fungal infections, parasites and autoimmune disorders of the skin—ranging from the merely annoying to the downright deadly. So it’s no wonder that dermatological issues are the number one reason that dogs and cats end up at the vet,” according to experts at Tufts Vet University. 

Frequently asked questions

Does apple cider vinegar help yeast infections on dogs’ paws?

Nope, our veterinarian noted that apple cider vinegar isn’t effective in treating yeast infections.

Are Epsom salt baths effective treatment?

We don’t recommend using Epsom salt baths to treat your dog’s yeasty paws.

What home remedies treat yeast infections in dog paws?

It’s best to work with your veterinarian to determine a treatment plan for your dog’s infection. They’ll prescribe antifungal shampoos, sprays, wipes, and lotions or systemic treatments.