Yeast infections (candida albicans) in dogs are fairly common. Yeast overgrowth leads to ear infections, skin irritation and rashes, digestive upset and secondary medical problems like staphylococcus (staph) dermatitis, gas and bloating. Prevention may be the best medicine, and in most cases, yeast infections can be prevented. In many cases, allergies are the cause. In the event of a flare-up, there are several effective treatments available from your veterinarian and several home remedies.
Yeast infections are triggered by an underlying cause. The most common is airborne allergies. These are usually seasonal and triggered by pollens and dust. As the dog's immune system fights the allergens, his skin produces excess oils, which can lead to yeast infections of the ears and skin. Allergies to yeast itself may also cause yeast infections, often including gas, diarrhea and stomach upset, along with overall itching. Dogs with food allergies often lick their feet obsessively.
Prevention and treatment involves determining the exact underlying cause. Ask your vet about tests to identify allergens. If the yeast infections are due to an allergy to the yeast itself, feeding a yeast-free diet will resolve all symptoms. Talk to your vet about prescription dog foods. You may also consider switching to a grain-free kibble,or feeding a home-cooked or raw diet. Yeast infections in the ears can be prevented by regular cleaning.
Infections of any kind need antibiotics. If the skin is infected, your vet may want to do a skin scraping and culture to determine exactly which yeast bacteria is responsible for the infection and to choose the best antibiotic. Oral antibiotics are usually only part of the treatment regimen. Prescription shampoos containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylate are applied several times a week. For the intense itching that accompanies many yeast infections, your vet may prescribe a short-term course of prednisone. Treating yeast infections in the ears generally requires antibiotic ear drops for 10 to 14 days. If the infection is severe and painful, pain medication might also be prescribed.
Yeast infections can be stubborn to treat. Often they will disappear with a course of antibiotics only to recur as soon as treatment has stopped. While a visit to a veterinary dermatologist seems expensive, it may be cheaper in the long run if an effective treatment is found quickly. A veterinary dermatologist will have a wider range of diagnostics and medications available than a general practitioner. Some treatments for yeast infections include azole antifungal medications and hormone therapy, because it has been found that spayed and neutered dogs are more susceptible to allergies and skin infections (see Resources for a dermatologist and more information on current treatments).
While you should never attempt to treat or medicate a dog without guidance from your vet, there are several things you can do at home to prevent or treat yeast infections. Vinegar will kill the yeast organism and prevent further growth by altering the pH level of the skin. It should be mixed 50:50 with pure water. Fish oil capsules provide omega-3 fatty acids and are good for the skin and coat. According to Holly Nash, DVM, MS, it has been shown to be an effective anti-inflammatory and useful for itchy and allergy-prone dogs (see Resources).