When I think of yeast infections in dogs, I get a mental picture of an itchy pooch with a red rash or smelly ears. It’s an all too common sight at veterinary offices. “Why does this keep coming back?” frustrated dogs lovers ask.
It’s because yeast infections only occur when there is an underlying problem with the body’s normal defenses. If this problem is not addressed, the infections will not be resolved.
What is a yeast infection?
Yeast infections are most commonly caused by an overgrowth of Malassezia pachydermatis, a fungal organism found in small numbers on normal skin. Given the right environment, these normally benign organisms multiply and cause problems. This only occurs when the natural barriers in the skin are compromised by allergic skin disease, certain immune-suppressive medications, or systemic conditions that compromise the immune system, such as Cushing’s disease.
While yeast infections can occur anywhere on the body, the most common locations are the ears, around the eyes, lips, feet and anus. Basically, any dark moist area on the skin is an ideal growing location.
Symptoms and diagnosis
The symptoms of a yeast infection are hard to miss, although many skin conditions can look the same. The skin can be very itchy, red, oozing or crusty, and have a distinctive “yeasty” smell. If the condition is chronic, the skin will thicken and look like elephant hide. Ears will be red and the ear canal can be swollen, painful and full of brown discharge. Dogs with yeast infections will lick and scratch themselves relentlessly.
To diagnose a yeast infection, skin scrapes can be examined under a microscope to look for organisms. Samples from the ears or skin can be sent to a laboratory for a culture and to identify the organisms. Additionally, testing for allergic or systemic diseases may be needed to discover the root cause of the infection.
Herbs can help
A veterinarian may suggest any number of conventional treatments. While they all work, they can have side effects and do not address the underlying problem. Thankfully, holistic options can help your dog feel better and prevent future infections. Chinese herbal formulas can effectively treat both the symptoms and the underlying disease. Formulas are based on the dog’s pattern of symptoms.
1. Excess skin patterns:
inflamed, red skin infections stemming from faulty digestion. An inappropriate diet leads to toxic substances building up in the body, finally manifesting as hot, red skin lesions. Si Miao San and modified Long Dan Xie Gan Tang are two commonly prescribed formulas for this condition.
2. Deficient skin pattern:
dry and flaky skin with a brittle hair coat, generally not as itchy as excess pattern dogs. From the perspective of TCM, these dogs are blood deficient, leading to inadequate moisture and nutrition for the skin. Herbal formulas to address blood deficiency are Si Wu Xiao Feng Yin or Xiao Yao San.
• Western herbs to address yeast infections include garlic; it has shown effective for Candida yeast infections in people, so may also have some crossover effect against Malassezia.
The Hoxsey Formula is a combination of several different herbs that address severely inflamed skin: equal amounts of Linden Flower extract, Nettle extract, and Passion Flower extract.
Don’t forget diet
Carbohydrates should be minimized or avoided. Diets that contain one protein source are a good choice; just make sure the protein is something your dog has not eaten before. Dogs with red inflamed skin benefit from raw diets, while dogs with less inflammation should be fed more meat, especially organ meats.
Supplementation with fatty acids from fish oils is beneficial for dry skin. Vitamins provide important antioxidant and immune boosting functions; feed your dog a variety of brightly colored vegetables every day.
If your dog has yeast infections in his ears, flushing them with a 50/50 solution of water and white vinegar is helpful, though works best as a preventative. Tea tree oil is effective against many yeast species, but can be irritating if put on the skin full strength, and toxic if ingested. Shampoos and topical preparations with aloe and calendula are good options. They soothe irritated skin and hasten the healing of any lesions.
Remember that yeast infections do not occur by themselves. There is always some underlying cause. Once this is addressed, you’ll no longer ask, “Why did this come back?” and your dog will be happy and itch-free!