Yeast in Dogs
By Dr. Karen Becker, DVM
As with people, dogs have a normal amount of healthy levels of yeast that naturally occur on their body. The balance of the normal healthy flora of dogs—flora can be their natural occurring staph, which they have, as well as a light layer of naturally occurring yeast. That balance is kept in check by a healthy and balanced immune system.
Cause of Yeast Overgrowth in Dogs
On the immune spectrum, balance is in the middle, and that’s where we want our dogs to be. An under active immune system can absolutely lead to yeast overgrowth, because the immune system isn’t healthy enough to maintain opportunistic yeast blooms. An overactive immune system can also lead to yeast problems. What happens almost always in a traditional veterinary community is when dogs have allergies or an overactive immune system, either number one; veterinarians prescribe steroids which turn the immune system off. When the immune system’s turned off through drugs, the body can’t respond to its ability to regulate and balance normal flora levels, so your dog ends up with yeast blooms. Steroids can cause secondary opportunistic yeasts, and when antibiotics are then prescribed because of opportunistic infections, they can add to the problem. Antibiotics are well-known to obliterate all the good bacteria and healthy yeast levels, so your dog ends up with these opportunistic yeast blooms. The second reason why dogs that have allergies end up with a lot of yeast is that they can actually develop an allergy to their yeast. So intradermal testing that dermatologists will do will sometimes reveal that dogs are having allergic responses to their own natural flora. That can be a real problem because they have this allergic response that occurs from their yeast, literally from head to toe. You will see them red from the tip of their nose to the tip of their tail; their whole body is flaming red and irritated. That can be a yeast allergy that their body’s mounting against their own normal flora. So allergic-responses, dogs will commonly end up with yeast, and an under active immune system or immuno-suppressed pets also can end up with yeast. Your veterinarian can determine that your pet has yeast either by cytology, which is looking at a skin swab under a microscope, or by culture. But you’ll be able to know that your pet has yeast just by how he smells. Yeast has a very characteristic smell. Some people will describe it as a moldy bread smell, and some people will say their dog smells musty. I think it smells like Frito corn chips, in fact some people even call it “Frito feet”—it’s kind of a pungent, cheese popcorn musty, stinky smell. Some people say “Oh, dogs have doggy odor!” Dogs shouldn’t have doggy odor if they’re healthy dogs. So if you have a dog that has stinky paws or stinky ears that are musty, chances are your dog’s probably dealing with yeast. Yeast is tremendously itchy, so that’s your other clue. If your dog will not leave his feet alone or he’s constantly scratching his ears or pushing his butt on the ground because it itches, these are all indications that your dog is dealing with the yeast overgrowth problem. Yeast is really itchy, and if given the chance, dogs will spend hours digging at themselves because of this intense itch.
So evaluating where your dog is itchy and what’s growing there—whether its bacteria or yeast—can be a really important part of solving the overwhelming itch.
Change Your Pet’s Diet to Help Control Yeast Overgrowth
If your dog is dealing with yeast, there are a couple of things you’ve got to think about. Number one, to help control yeast, you have to address diet. Occasionally (but actually rarely), if your dog just has yeast in one spot—let’s say one ear is yeasty, and the rest of the dog is fine, you can probably get by just treating the ear for yeast and hoping that the immune system recognizes what’s going on and your body takes care of the problem. However, if you have a dog that has yeast a little bit everywhere—like all four paws are yeasty, both ears are yeasty, or his whole body’s yeasty—you have no choice but to address diet. In fact, diet is the foundation of health. How you nourish your pet is either going to help with the yeast response (in terms of balancing the immune system) or be feeding a yeast problem. So we’re going to encourage you to put your dogs on what I call an “anti-yeast diet.” Here’s what’s interesting: An anti-yeast diet is also an anti-inflammatory diet, which is also a species-appropriate diet. What we mean by that is we know that yeast needs sugar as a source of energy, and that carbohydrates break down into sugar. One of the things that you’ll hear veterinarians as well as human doctors say about pets or people dealing with yeast blooms is you’ve got to get the sugars out of the diet. This is true in both human and veterinary medicine as well. But sugar isn’t just white sugar, which of course can be hidden in many treats and some pet foods. Those secret hidden words of sugar can also cause yeast problems, like honey. Although honey can be beneficial for pets, it’s providing a food source for yeast. So for pets that are dealing with yeast, when you review treat and food labels, there should be no honey, high fructose corn syrup, or even white potatoes or sweet potatoes. If you have a pet that’s dealing with a really significant yeast problem, we recommend that you go completely sugar-free. Feed low-glycemic veggies and eliminate potatoes, corn, wheat, rice—all of the carbohydrates need to go when it comes to providing a low-sugar diet for your pet. So that’s a really important step, and I wish that I could tell you that you’ll be able to not only treat yeast, but keep them effectively at bay without addressing diet. You probably won’t. You need to make sure that your first step is to put your pet on a diet that is conducive to balancing healthy, normal flora levels.
The second thing we’re going to recommend you do is consider adding some naturally anti-fungal foods, like a small amount of garlic added to your pet’s diet, as well as oregano. Both of those foods are naturally anti-fungal and anti-yeast. They can be beneficial in helping to reduce the amount of yeast level in your pet’s body.
Disinfecting the Yeasty Body Parts
The third thing we’re going to recommend you to do is disinfect the yeasty parts. This is a really overlooked, common sense, almost free, pretty darn cheap approach. If you think about human medicine and people who have recurrent yeast infections, there’s no way that you’re not going to be able to not disinfect parts that are yeasty and be okay. In fact, dermatologists and internists give people specific treatment protocols to be able to address yeasty parts of the body. We don’t do that in veterinary medicine, and it’s kind of a shame. What we say is “Here’s a cream, salve or dip -- just keep putting it on the area.” The problem is that, as yeast dies, it forms a layer of dead yeast on top of a layer of dead yeast. Unless you remove the layers and disinfect the skin, that dead yeast with a bunch of ointment actually can exacerbate the situation.
Disinfecting the parts of your pet’s body that are yeasty is really important and there is no replacement for disinfecting. There are two things that don’t come in pill form: baths or disinfecting and exercise. Those are two things you just have to do for your pet.
Yeasty Dog Ears
If your pet’s ears are yeasty, you have to disinfect his ears daily. Just as some people get out of the shower and Q-tip out their ears every day, some people never have to Q-tip out their ears. Some dogs never have to have their ears cleaned, while many dogs have to have their ears cleaned every day. The frequency with which you clean your dog’s ears is 100 percent dependent on how much debris the ears produce. So if you have a Labrador that has soupy ears every single day, May, June, July and August, you need to be cleaning every single day, May, June, July and August. If you look in your dog’s ears and they’re clean, dry, and beautiful, you can skip a day of cleaning. But the amount of cleaning has to correlate to the amount of debris. If you have a dog that has a ton of debris in his ears and you leave it in there, I wish I could say it will magically disappear on Wednesday. It will grow from wax, to yeast, to a fulminate bacterial infection, unless you remove that debris. Your dogs are counting on you to help remove some of that debris to help reduce the likelihood of yeast overgrowth or secondary infection.
Yeasty Dog Paws
If you have yeasty paws in your home: yeast love a damp, wet, moist environment. They like crevices—around the vulva and anus, between the pads, in the armpits and in the groin creases. That’s where yeast can thrive unregulated, so disinfecting those parts are really important. Dogs that have really yeasty feet need to have their feet disinfected. Keep in mind the only places dogs sweat from are from their nose and pads. During hot humid months when yeast tends to really be thriving, you need to do something to disinfect your dog’s paws. My recommendation is if you have a medium to large breed dog, get a Rubbermaid sweater box and fill it up with a hose. Have your dog step into it. If you have a small dog, you can just plunk him in your kitchen sink. If you have a giant size dog, you can try a coffee can or cup of water. Dunking the foot in a foot soak is a much more therapeutic option than spraying or even wiping down your pet’s feet. Wiping down your pet’s feet to try and remove yeast is nearly impossible because yeast lives under the nail beds and all the creases that you’re not going to get to. So dunking the dog’s feet – fully submerging them -- and patting dry is really important. In my practice, I recommend a gallon of water, a cup of peroxide and a cup of white vinegar as a foot dunk solution, and you can do that 1 to 30 times a day—that’s an exaggeration—but you can do it as often as necessary to keep your dog’s feet clean and dry. That really needs to be your mantra. After you dip your pet’s feet in this astringent solution, you can pat dry and you don’t have to rinse it off. That solution left on your pet’s feet is anti-fungal and will help reduce the amount of licking and secondary yeast production that will occur. You can clean your dog’s ear out either with a solution you prefer to buy, you can use witch hazel on big cotton balls, but you’ve got to remove the debris using as many cotton balls as it takes to be able to effectively keep your dog’s ears clean and dry.
Anti-Yeast Baths for Your Pet
Besides disinfecting regularly—disinfecting ears, wherever they’re yeasty, disinfect feet, or disinfect wherever they’re itching (it could be armpits that you’re going to hit up every single day with a naturally anti-yeast solution)—the other thing you’ve got to think about is anti-yeast baths.
Now keep in mind that there’s a myth (actually, it’s really not a myth) that you should never bathe your pet. This was founded in the early 1930’s when the only shampoos we had available for pets were coal, tar derivatives. Back in the 30’s and 40’s, all we had was sulfur, coal tar and lye-based shampoos that are really damaging to your pet’s hair. So the end result was never bathing your pet. Now, just as you can shampoo your hair everyday if you desire—or every other day, or several times a week—and not have a drying effect, if you pick your pet’s shampoo wisely, you have nothing to worry about when it comes to over-drying.
If your pet has yeast growing on his skin, you have no choice but to use oral drugs, which I do not recommend, to treat yeast. Or the common sense thing, which is to disinfect your pet’s body with a naturally anti-fungal shampoo.
I mentioned that yeast love grains and carbs, so do not use oatmeal on a yeasty dog. Oatmeal is a grain, and that provides a food source. I want you to use an anti-fungal shampoo, such as tea tree oil or an herbal shampoo that will help naturally diminish the amount of yeast growing on your pet.
I also do a lot of naturally anti-fungal rinses during the summer months: that’s a gallon of water, a cup of vinegar (which makes the dog smell nice) or a cup of lemon juice (which makes them smell even nicer) added to a gallon of water. You can also use 20 drops of peppermint oil. Now, all of these post-bath rinses should not be poured on the head. Don’t get any rinse in your dog’s eyes. We pour from the collar back. During the summer months, when you’re bathing a dog with yeast, you have to use it more frequently, anywhere from one to three times a week to help naturally decrease the amount of yeast on his body. After you’ve lathered him up with, let’s say a tea tree based shampoo and rinsed thoroughly,
You can then use a naturally anti-fungal astringent rinse to help knock down or decrease the amount of yeast growing on your pet. So you can pour this gallon of natural solution over him, rub it into his coat and skin, especially hitting up points that are yeasty—armpits, feet, groin, and around the tail—and then towel dry without rinsing. This provides not only improvements with how your dog feels, but it will also help reduce how quickly the yeast is able to replicate. You can use the rinses as often as necessary. Two things to know: lemon juice and hydrogen peroxide (if you’re using it for your foot dunks) can bleach out your black dog’s fur. So if you have light-colored dogs, you have nothing to worry about, but if you have black dogs, you would pick vinegar over other solutions so you won’t have a lightening effect.
If the Yeast Persists, Check Your Dog’s Immune System
One last comment I’d like you to think about when it comes to yeast: Oftentimes, dogs become seasonally yeasty, which means when the weather becomes hot and humid, dogs can become more stinky and yeasty, and that’s your cue to start cleaning, disinfecting and of course, addressing diet. If your dog has yeast issues year-round, which means that regardless if it’s dead of winter or 90 degrees outside and you have a yeasty pet, you’ve got to be thinking about potential immune system issues. If your pet is overwhelmed with an opportunistic pathogen (which is what yeast is), you need to be thinking about his immune system not being 100 percent up to par. In my practice, if I have an animal that cannot get over a yeast infection, we do some immune testing that measures how well their immunoglobulin levels (IGG, IGM, and IGA), how well their body’s production of immunoglobulins is. If it’s healthfully producing immunoglobulins, there’s no reason why your pet should not be able to overcome any infection particularly an opportunistic yeast infection.