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The essentials

  • Yeast infections are common, especially in certain breeds — Dogs with skin folds  or longer hair in their ear canals are more at risk.
  • Food or environmental allergens can lead to yeast infections in dogs — Overgrowth of yeast due to moisture or underlying conditions that cause weakened immune systems are also common culprits.
  • You’ll need to talk to a vet for diagnosis and treatment — Home remedies aren’t proven to be effective.

What's a yeast infection?

Yeast infections in dogs are known as yeast dermatitis or Malassezia. These infections are caused by Malassezia pachydermatis, a type of fungus. A yeast infection is a skin disease that occurs when something, like a weakened immune system, lowers the skin’s defenses.

Allergies and inflammation may also cause “breaks” in the skin’s barrier, allowing yeast to make their way into the skin. When that happens, a dog’s skin can no longer maintain the low amount of yeast that naturally occurs. 

Yeast infections are fairly common, especially in dogs with folded skin or floppy ears, such as French bulldogs and cocker spaniels. They’re also frequently seen in dogs who have longer hair in their ear canals. Yeast infections aren’t very serious as long as you treat them promptly. However, without proper care, they can develop into severe infections that can take months to heal. 

Signs your dog has a yeast infection

Yeast infections are common in dogs and are usually easy to spot (and smell), although a vet will need to formally diagnose the issue. That’s because bacterial infections, parasitic infections, and ringworm can all have similar clinical presentations.

Typically, yeast infections cause dry, itchy, flaky, red, smelly, hardened, or hyperpigmented skin. But yeast infections can also occur on the paws or in the ears, so there are many signs to keep an eye out for if you suspect your dog has a yeast infection.

  • Ear infections. If your dog has recurring ear infections, it could be a sign of a yeast infection. The ears might also be red or will have brown discharge.
  • Paw irritation. The paw or the area between the toes can become infected. Red or itchy paws can be a sign of a yeast infection, and your dog may lick the paws frequently if there is a yeast infection. You might also see brown discharge between the toes or under the nails.
  • Skin irritation. Any changes to the texture or color of the dog’s skin could be a sign of a yeast infection. The skin might become dry, hard, hyperpigmented, scaly, or crusty. The skin may also present a yeasty or musty odor. 
  • Scratching. If your dog incessantly scratches their skin or shakes their ears, they could be trying to tell you that they have a yeast infection. Scratching is also a sign of multiple skin issues, including fleas and ear mites. Constant scratching can create hot spots, so you definitely want to deal with the issue as soon as possible, regardless of the cause.  
  • Whining or howling. Some dogs may whimper when they scratch their itchy, irritated skin or ears. Take them to the vet if they start vocalizing when dealing with a particular area. 
  • Licking. Dogs clean themselves, but if they can’t seem to quit, they’re probably licking at more than dirt from the dog park.  
  • Hair loss. The affected area may appear rough and patchy, with red, flaky skin and a partial loss of fur.
Ear infection in cocker spaniel

Yeasty dog ear

Potential causes of yeast infections in dogs

Dogs have naturally occurring fungi and bacteria on their skin. If something weakens the immune system, these microorganisms can become imbalanced. This can lead to infections, including yeast infections.

There are many factors that can weaken the immune system or damage the skin, including allergies or skin parasites like fleas. Other causes, like hormones or medications, can also disrupt the balance of bacteria and fungus on your dog’s skin.

But there are other ways for a yeast infection to occur aside from a weakened immune system. Even a fun afternoon of swimming can create a moist environment in the ears, which allows the yeast to flourish. Here are some reasons why a dog might develop a yeast infection:

  • Environmental allergies. Itchy skin, a common symptom of allergies, can cause your dog to scratch open the skin. If this happens, the wound may create a breeding ground for an infection. 
  • Hormonal disorders. Hormonal disorders, like hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease , can create a higher risk for pets to develop yeast infections. The imbalances can cause the yeast populations to overgrow.
  • Food allergies. Like environmental allergies, food allergies for dogs can lead to a yeast infection. The most common food allergens for dogs are meat, soy, and eggs.
  • Antibiotics or other drugs. Antibiotics and some other medications will affect the naturally present bacterial populations, which can lead to yeast overpopulation. This is especially common after long-term drug use.
  • Skin parasites. Mites and other skin parasites will cause inflammation and irritation to your dog’s ears and skin. Mites and yeast infections in the ear are often confused with one another. Mites are common for young puppies with weaker immune systems, which can also lead to yeast infections.
  • Fleas. If your dog has flea allergy dermatitis, the severe itching and scratching can manifest in a yeast infection. Staying on flea prevention year-round is crucial to preventing a flea infestation. 
  • Other skin disorders. Yeast infections develop on the skin. Skin disorders can lead to lower amounts of “good” bacteria and higher amounts of yeast populations. 
  • Moisture. Going outside on hot, humid days or spending time underwater can predispose your dog to yeast infections.  
  • Breed. If your dog has skin folds, long hair in their ears, or a history of skin allergies, they may be particularly susceptible to yeast infections.

Breeds more likely to get yeast infections

Some doggies are more susceptible than others. In particular, dogs with skin or tail folds or hair in the inner ear canal are prone to yeast infections. According to one study, these breeds have a higher risk of yeast infections compared to other dogs:

Diagnosing yeast infections in dogs

A veterinarian will use cytology to diagnose a yeast infection. The vet will swab the discharge in the affected area, collect a skin sample, or use acetate tape preparations to collect the yeast, then evaluate the sample on a microscope slide to look for Malassezia yeast. The yeast will appear in clusters or will adhere to skin cells.

While a yeasty odor or specific lesion patterns may suggest a yeast infection, cytology is the most effective way for a vet to officially diagnose the problem. Keep in mind, though, that the vet may need to conduct more testing to identify the underlying cause of the infection.

Treating yeast infections in dogs

Your vet will advise you on the most effective treatment plan for Fido’s infection. Treatments are usually topical, oral, or both. Sometimes severe yeast infections can lead to secondary bacterial infections, so the vet may also prescribe antibiotics.

1. Vet treatment

If you suspect a yeast infection, you should take your dog to the vet for an evaluation. The vet will be able to prescribe the best treatment based on the severity of the infection and where on your pup’s body it’s located. The vet may prescribe a topical or oral treatment or both.

According to our vets, treatment depends on the severity of the pet’s clinical presentation. Superficial infections may take one or two weeks to heal, but deeper infections could take weeks or even months. If allergies are the cause, the treatment could be lifelong to prevent more yeast infections in the future.

2. Shampoos

Antifungal shampoos will help keep the skin clean and treat the yeast infection. Your vet may prescribe a shampoo or recommend over-the-counter options depending on the severity of the skin infection. Our vet’s favorite medicated shampoo is Dechra Miconahex + Triz Shampoo.

3. Ear cleaners

The ears are a hot spot for yeast infections. If your dog has a yeast infection in the ears, your vet will prescribe ear cleaners to treat the infection and keep the ears clean to prevent it from getting worse. 

4. Paw soaks

Yeast overgrowth can happen around paws or between your dog’s toes. Your vet may prescribe paw soaks to help clean the area and treat the yeast infection. There are also paw soaks available over the counter.

5. Antifungal medications

Your vet may prescribe oral antifungal medications to treat yeast infections, especially if they are more severe. Antifungal medications for dogs’ yeast infections include fluconazole, itraconazole, ketoconazole, and terbinafine.

6. Topical ointment

A topical treatment is another option to help treat the yeast infection. They can also provide your dog with some relief from the intense itchiness and inflammation. Your vet will need to prescribe this type of treatment.

Preventing yeast infections in dogs

Yeast infections can be uncomfortable for your furry friend. Unfortunately, it’s easy for them to return if the primary cause isn’t treated. For example, if your pup is allergic to poultry but continues to eat dog food with chicken, the yeast infection may return. Dog breeds that have wrinkly skin are more prone to yeast infections, but keeping the folds clean can help prevent future yeast infections.

Keep your dog indoors during hot, humid days — Yeast flourishes in moist environments. Skin folds or even the spots between the toes can quickly become warm and moist on hot, humid days, creating a breeding ground for yeast. 

Frequently clean your dog’s ears and paws — Keep your pup’s ears and paws clean and dry to avoid a yeast infection. To prevent infection and/or mites, consider using some of betterpet’s favorite ear cleaners, like Virbac Epi-Otic Advanced Ear Cleanser or QualityPet Ear Nectar Organic Ear Cleaner.

Use a balm to clean your dog’s wrinkles and skin folds — Yeast thrives in the warm, moist folds of a dog’s skin. Natural Dog Company’s Wrinkle Balm is an all-natural, organic product that allows you to easily clean between the folds of your dog’s skin. Simply apply it to a towel and swipe through the folds to clean and soothe the area.

Dry your dog off after a bath or swim (ears too!) — Again, yeast will overpopulate in a moist environment, even in the ears. Make sure after you thoroughly dry your dog off, making sure to dry the ears and feet, too.

Keep an eye on your dog’s diet and appetite — Food allergies are a common trigger for a yeast infection in dogs. Ask your veterinarian if they think it may be helpful to switch your dog’s food to a specialty diet, or a formula with a hydrolyzed or novel protein, like venison. A novel protein is a protein that your dog has never been exposed to. Especially after making a change to dog food, watch your pup for any signs of an allergy, including itching, inflammation, weight loss, vomiting, or diarrhea.

Watch for seasonal sneezes and itches —Environmental allergies are also a common cause of yeast infections. Dogs with seasonal allergies may sneeze, excessively scratch their skin, or have red, itchy ears that are often hot to the touch.

Keep your dog’s flea prevention up-to-date — Flea allergy dermatitis can wreak havoc on your dog’s skin, predisposing them to yeast infections. In addition to skin issues, fleas can also give your dog intestinal worms. Even if your dog is on flea prevention, you should monitor their coat if you live in a warm climate. Flea prevention certainly helps, but it might not be 100% effective in infested areas.  

Living with dogs with chronic yeast infections

Unfortunately, not all factors behind chronic yeast infections can be prevented. You can’t iron out your pug’s adorable wrinkles (like you’d even want to) and you can’t straighten your Dachshund’s adorable floppy ears. Some dogs are simply going to need a little extra TLC in order to prevent chronic infections. 

If your dog is a breed that’s susceptible to yeast infections — or you’ve made several trips to the vet with them about this issue — it’s time to consider a few lifestyle changes that can mitigate the risks. While these measures might not permanently prevent yeast infections, they help you prevent avoidable underlying conditions, like dirty ears. Here are some ways to deal with this frustrating problem:  

  • Switch their diet — Talk to your vet about switching your dog’s diet to something more allergen-friendly. Novel proteins that your dog has likely never been exposed to, like venison and rabbit, are often recommended over common proteins like chicken and beef. Meat is the main food allergen for dogs, followed by dairy, soy, and eggs. Introducing them to a new protein reduces the risk that their body will try to fight it. 
  • Keep them clean — Develop a daily habit of checking your dog’s ears and paws. After a walk is the best time so that you can also inspect their paws for anything they might have accidentally stepped on. You may also want to invest in paw and ear wipes to help them stay clean.   
  • Avoid over-bathing — It sounds counterintuitive. A dirty dog is more susceptible to yeast infections, so it seems like the solution is to bathe them more frequently. Not necessarily. Over-bathing can dry out your dog’s skin and coat, setting the stage for irritated skin that can easily develop a yeast infection. It’s best to bathe your dog no more than once a month — maybe even less depending on the breed — and wipe their paws and ears down in the meantime to keep them clean. When it is time for a bath, opt for a soothing oatmeal shampoo that’s free from sulfates and parabens.

Frequently asked questions

Why does my dog keep getting yeast infections?

Some common causes of yeast infections in dogs include allergens and underlying conditions that result in a weakened immune system. Your dog may experience seasonal yeast infections if it’s due to an environmental allergy or humid weather. In some cases, medications or even oily skin can also cause chronic infection. Unfortunately, certain breeds (and dogs) are more predisposed to developing yeast infections and other fungal infections than others.

Are yeast infections in dogs contagious?

Dogs’ yeast infections aren’t contagious to humans. This is because a yeast infection in dogs is caused by an overgrowth of Malassezia pachydermatis, a fungus that’s normally present on our skin in low amounts. Allergies or a weakened immune system are responsible for this overgrowth, which wouldn’t happen under normal circumstances. If they develop a bacterial skin infection, then that infection would be transferable to other pups through skin-to-skin contact.

What food allergies cause yeast infections in dogs?

Food allergens can cause yeast infections in dogs, but the allergens can vary by dog. Common food allergies for dogs include meat proteins, soy, dairy, and eggs. Many dogs with food sensitivities are prescribed a hypoallergenic diet with either a hydrolyzed or novel protein.

Are there any home remedies for yeast infections in dogs?

Most alleged home remedies for dog yeast infections have not been clinically proven to be effective. Apple cider vinegar is sometimes cited as helpful for restoring the balance between bad and good bacteria, but its effectiveness isn’t supported by scientific data because it hasn’t been extensively studied in veterinary medicine yet. Consulting your vet for professional medical advice, an accurate diagnosis of your pet,  and appropriate treatment is the best way to deal with the problem, especially since multiple underlying conditions can cause an overgrowth of yeast.