By Carol McCarthy
If your dog has itchy, irritated skin and smells a little stinky, he could be suffering from a yeast infection. This condition can cause extreme discomfort for our canine companions and may be related to an underlying problem such as an allergy or a hormonal disorder.
All strains of yeast are funguses, and these organisms normally live on the bodies of dogs (and people) without causing illness. Problems arise when there is an overabundance of the fungus on a dog’s body, says Dr. Neil Marrinan of the Old Lyme Veterinary Hospital in Connecticut. “Overgrowth requires a trigger and loss of skin defenses,” he says.
Typically, dogs are bothered by the opportunistic pathogen Malassezia pachydermatis, says Dr. Klaus Loft, who practices dermatology at the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ Angell Animal Medical Center. “We see yeast in various forms in and on dogs,” he says. “It resides normally on the skin and is implicated in skin, paw, and ear infections.”
So how do you know if your dog has a yeast infection? Here are 10 common signs watch out for.
Signs of Yeast Infections in Dogs
Changes in color and texture
Signs of a yeast infection can vary depending on the site of the infection. “The biggest sign is alteration in the appearance of the skin,” Marrinan says. A pink or red color is commonly seen in the early stages of infection. With chronic infection, the skin can become leathery, thick, and gray or black. Remember that yeast infections can occur in a number of places on your dog’s body if conditions are right, he notes.
Excessively oily or greasy skin is another common symptom of a yeast infection in dogs, according to Loft.
Some dogs with yeast infections develop crusting, scaling, or flakiness of the skin that can look a little like dandruff, says Dr. Jennifer Coates, veterinary advisor for petMD.
“The ears are far and away the most common location for a yeast infection,” Marrinan says. In such cases, you likely will notice your dog trying to relieve his discomfort by repeatedly shaking or tilting his head.
Scratching and rubbing
Your dog also might be quite itchy from the yeast infection. You may see him scratching the affected spot, rubbing up against furniture or another surface, or scooting along the floor, Marrinan says.
Some dogs might attempt to relieve itchy discomfort by incessantly licking the infected area, the doctors note.
Swelling and warmth
While redness and itching are the first signs of a yeast infection, symptoms can easily progress to swelling, warmth, and pain in the infected area, according to Marrinan.
Odor also is a common sign of a yeast infection, regardless of location, Loft says. “Some people claim the yeast-infected skin and ears smell like Cheetos or have a sweet smell, but this is typically not a reliable ‘test,’ as we often find certain bacterial infections can have a similar odor,” he says. “It is important to remember this can be seen with other infectious organisms beyond yeast, so diagnostic testing at the veterinarian’s office is required.”
Hair loss can accompany the yeast infection and associated inflammation, Loft says.
A yeast infection in a dog’s mouth is extremely rare but can cause abnormal drooling, oral discomfort, and problems eating. Excessive drooling can also be a sign of other problems in the mouth, such as an abscessed tooth or bee sting, Marrinan says, so pet parents should take their dog to the vet to determine the cause.
Treating Yeast Infections in Dogs
The most important aspect of treating a yeast infection in dogs is identifying and addressing the underlying cause. This will make the risk of relapse less of a concern, Loft and Marrinan agree. For deep and generalized skin and paw/claw bed infections, veterinarians may prescribe oral antifungal medications such as ketoconazole, fluconazole, or terbinafine, Loft says. Ears can be treated topically with appropriate ear cleaners and medications, but severe ear infections may also require oral medications. Bathing the skin and fur with disinfecting and degreasing shampoos can also help, Marrinan adds. The best treatment regimen can be determined by a veterinarian familiar with the specifics of the dog’s case.