What Causes Candidiasis — And How to Treat It

Candida, the bacteria responsible for candidiasis in cats and dogs, are actually a normal part of pets’ biology.

By: vivarin
Skin folds, such as in the tight folds around the tail of a Bulldog, are characteristic locations for infection. By: vivarin

Candidiasis is a fungal infection caused by Candida albicans (the same organism that causes thrush in people).

Forgive my indulgence, but I love learning about the derivation of words — “candida” means “to glisten” (as in candle) and “albicans” means “white.” In that neat way that happens in science, this describes the fungal colonies and appearance of a candida infection: a white-cream plaque on broken or ulcerated tissue.

Candida makes up part of the normal flora and fauna on canine and feline skin. Normally, it does not cause a problem, but if the skin’s immunity dips or the skin becomes damaged, candida takes advantage and causes infection. Think of this like kids in a house: The parents go out and the kids run wild.

Symptoms

Candida loves to grow where there is moisture, air and damage to the skin. Skin folds are typical sites — the hairy skin rubbing against itself causes inflammation.

The warm, damp environment of an ear, mouth or vulva makes candida happy. Candidiasis is typified by a foul smell and itch. It grows as a white-gray or white-cream topping on a non-healing ulcer.

Causes

Candida albicans is a yeast-like organism commonly found on the surface of skin. It is held in check by the skin’s immune system, but if the skin is damaged or the immune system is weakened, candida may breed out of control.

Skin folds, such as in the tight folds around the tail of a Bulldog, are characteristic locations for infection. Hairy skin rubbing against itself causes local trauma. Add in the warmth and moisture, and you create candida heaven.

A general illness, such as diabetes or Cushing’s disease, depresses the body’s ability to fight infection, allowing candida to breed and reproduce. Again, places like the ear, mouth and vulva, where there is warmth and poor air circulation, are typical spots where candida may flourish.

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Diagnosis

Diagnosis is relatively simple because the organism shows up under the microscopic. No fancy equipment is needed — just a slide, a microscope and a simple stain.

The clinician merely has to press the slide onto the lesion, let the impression smear dry, stain it and then look at it under magnification to see the yeast and budding cells.

The trick to diagnosis is to ask “why” the infection happened. Is it a case of traumatized skin, such as a skin fold, or does the pet have a wider problem, such as a condition making him rundown and less able to keep simple infections in check?

By: patchattack
Keep those skin folds clean and dry. By: patchattack

Treatment

When the infection is localized to 1 or 2 places, a topical ointment will clear the infection. The slight complication is that there are no ointments licensed for animal use for the purpose of treating candidiasis.

This does not mean there are none available — there are plenty for human use — but it does mean that the treatment is considered “unlicensed” and therefore used at the owner’s risk.

If the infection occupies a larger area, such as over the whole of the tummy, then oral medication is necessary. Drugs such as itraconazole or ketoconazole are extremely effective, although a long course should be given that continues for at least a week after the skin looks better.

Prevention

Keep skin folds clean and dry so there is no buildup of grease or moisture on which candida can live. Avoid long courses of antibiotics — decreasing the bacterial population on the skin gives candida a chance to take over.

Also, if your pet is doing poorly, seek prompt veterinary advice so she does not become so rundown that she gets complications from candidiasis.

References

  • “Candidiasis.” Greene & Chandler. Infectious Disease of Dogs and Cats. Publisher: Saunders.
  • “Cutaneous and mucocutaneous candidiasis in a dog.” Comp Cont Ed Pract Vet, 7: 225.

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This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed Oct. 13, 2018.

Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS

View posts by Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS
Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS, is a veterinarian with nearly 30 years of experience in companion animal practice. Dr. Elliott earned her Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery from the University of Glasgow. She was also designated a Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. Married with 2 grown-up kids, Dr. Elliott has a naughty puggle called Poggle, 3 cats and a bearded dragon.

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