Do you have an itchy dog?
If you answered “yes,” then read on — yeast infections are a common cause of increased itchiness in dogs.
Get to grips with the yeast, and it could help an excessively itchy dog stop scratching (or, at least calm things down a bit).
A Dramatic Difference
Don’t you love it when a plan comes together? This little kick of happiness happened to me yesterday when I saw a patient with long-term skin problems.
This dog, Amy, has suffered from allergies since she was a stripling of a dog at 7 months old. As a result, she is an obsessive licker constantly found with her nose in her groin, hock over ear, lick-lick-licking her belly.
Amy has seasonal allergies, so her family tries to minimize meds over the winter. We usually see her back in the late spring or early summer to restart her medication before the itchy season really gets a grip.
However, this year, things didn’t go as planned. Instead of a pale-pink belly, this spring I was presented with greasy, thickened, blackened skin that looked like rhino hide. A piece of sellotape and a microscope slide later, we found a yeast infection. Amy was put onto a medicated shampoo to use every 3 days and wipes to use twice a day.
Which brings me back to my little bubble of elation — at the revisit, Amy was back to her baby-soft best.
Yeast Infections in Dogs
Think of these as the doggy equivalent of athlete’s foot (“athlete’s paw”?). Yeast, a normal inhabitant on the surface of the skin, start to breed out of control and create an infection. In dogs, the yeast in question is called malasezzia.
Malasezzia takes advantage of weakened skin to overgrow. It also thrives in a warm, moist environment, which makes skin traumatized by constant licking the perfect paradise.
Factors that can weaken the skin’s ability to keep yeast in check include:
- Allergies: Where inflammation linked to allergies weakens the skin’s immune system.
- Seborrhea : Excessive production of grease, which yeast loves.
- Hereditary factors: Some breeds are more prone to yeast infections than others, including dachshunds, Cocker Spaniels, poodles, Basset Hounds, West Highland white terriers.
Also, be wary of yeast infections if your dog takes steroids. These suppress the immune system generally and can allow yeast to take control of the skin.
Signs of a Yeast Infection
Typically, this is a dog who’s prone to itchiness, which then gets worse. The appearance and feel of their skin changes; the signs to be alert for are:
- Greasy-feeling skin
- Skin thickening
- “Hyperpigmentation,” or darkening of the skin
Severe cases that go untreated can end up losing hair and developing rhino hide.
This is down to that most wondrous of instruments — the microscope.
Your vet may press a piece of clear adhesive tape to the problem area and then stain the sample. The sticky tape is then stuck to a microscope slide and examined. Malasezzia has a distinctive appearance that looks just like tiny cottage loaves.
Key to treatment is using an antifungal that’s effective against this unwanted invader.
The most common treatment is a medicated shampoo containing miconazole and chlorhexidine. The dog is washed and shampooed; the treatment is left in contact with the skin for 10 minutes and then rinsed off. This is repeated every 3 days until things improve, which often takes 2–3 weeks.
For those tricky little places, such as between toes, there is also the option for wet wipes impregnated with miconazole. You can even tear these in half to make them last a little longer, and wipe between the toes morning and evening (a great tip for your obsessive foot licker!).
The severest of cases may need an oral medication, such as ketoconazole (also used to treat ringworm), to make the skin a truly hostile place and have the malasezzia packing their bags.
Watch this story about Mocha and her allergies:
Tackling Underlying Issues
These would include allergies, but a word of warning here: This doesn’t necessarily mean increasing the dose of meds such as steroids. To do so can further weaken the immune system.
Instead, it’s better to up the ante and battle the yeast directly with those medication mentioned above — which is what we did with Amy to great effect.
If you suspect yeast is causing your dog a problem, speak to your vet about how to control it.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed July 21, 2017.