As a community of pet parents, we often joke about our dogs’ cheesy-smelling feet. Most dogs have a slight odor on their paws, especially if you get right down in there between the toes. It’s not usually unpleasant, and yes, usually smells like cheetos. But what if that odor gets overwhelming, or is accompanied by constant chewing and licking? That could be an indication that yeast (a lot of it) is present.

While we may not associate frito-feet with a health concern, a yeast infection in dogs can actually develop to become quite irritating, even painful, and can be an indication of a more serious issue.

So, what exactly does it mean if your dog has a yeast infection? What causes them, how can you avoid them, and how can you heal them should one develop?

What Does it Mean if Your Dog Has a Yeast Infection?

Yeast is a type of fungi that lives in your dog’s body in small numbers. Typically, these numbers are kept in control by the friendly bacteria in your animal’s gut (yay probiotics!). At low numbers, this yeast isn’t an issue. However, if the yeast starts to flourish, growing in number, that’s when a yeast infection can start to rear its ugly head.

This alone can cause all kinds of irritating or painful symptoms (which we cover below).

With yeast, the longer it is allowed to remain, the more it will flourish and the harder it will be to treat. And if it keeps growing, it can start to irritate the cells lining the gut, which can eventually lead to something called leaky gut syndrome. This is when the tight junctions between the cells, which normally stop harmful bacteria, viruses, undigested food particles, and yeast from entering the bloodstream, begin to widen. When this happens, that yeast and those toxic byproducts leave the digestive tract, travel through the intestines, and enter the bloodstream. This can then lead to a whole host of other issues.

So, knowing that, a yeast infection in dogs is never something you want to just ignore.

Ok, so how can you tell if your dog has a yeast infection?

Symptoms of a Yeast Infection

These are some of the most common symptoms of a yeast infection in dogs:

  • Shaking the head/ear infection
  • Brown/black buildup in the ears
  • Chewing or licking the feet
  • Red, irritated skin or rash
  • Hair loss
  • Grey or black skin on the belly
  • Rust-colored hair on the paws/between the toes, in the ears, or other areas
  • Unpleasant odor or fur that feels greasy or dirty

Often a veterinary diagnoses is the best way to tell if it is in fact a yeast infection. Your vet will take a sample from your dog’s infected ear or skin and look at it under a microscope to see if your pup has yeast and how much of it there is. 

What Causes a Yeast Infection in Dogs?

There are several things that can contribute to the growth of yeast fungus in the body.

  1. Diet. Processed food (kibble) allows yeast to breed because of the high starch content. Starchy-carbohydrates like rice, potatoes, wheat, corn, and oats all create sugars that feed yeast.
  2. Antibiotics. Antibiotics kill the bacteria in the gut – both the bad (yay!) and the good (not yay). That good bacteria is what keeps the yeast in check, so when it isn’t there to combat the yeast, the yeast can start to grow out of control.
  3. Heavy metals and environmental toxins. Both of these can also do a number on the beneficial bacteria in the gut. Heavy metals and other toxins get into your dog’s body through various means: flea and tick meds, pesticides, cleaning products, etc.
  4. Allergies. Allergies to fleas, food, or substances in the environment can also cause a yeast infection in dogs. Allergies can lead to skin irritation and make skin oilier. Some dogs can even develop an allergic reaction to the yeast itself. It’s a vicious cycle!!!
  5. Steroid medications. Vets often prescribe steroid medications to treat dogs with autoimmune disorders and allergies. These conditions are an overreaction of the immune system. Steroids weaken the immune system, but also make dogs more susceptible to yeast infections. Their immune systems are less able to fight off germs.
  6. Overproduction of oils. Some skin conditions, like seborrhea oleosa (overproduction of oil on skin), can create an environment that promotes yeast overgrowth. 

As you can see, some of these you can control, like changing the diet or supporting the body after the use of antibiotics. Others, like the overproduction of oils, may need additional help.

Natural Remedies for Yeast Infection in Dogs

You have confirmed it is yeast. Now what?

  1. Change the diet. Moving to a balanced, fresh food diet can help to eliminate those starchy carbs that feed the yeast. A diet based primarily on meat proteins, as well as some fruits and vegetables, will provide valuable nutrition that helps to keep the body (and the immune system) strong.
  2. Pre and Probiotics. For the gut to be healthy, you need that healthy bacteria we mentioned earlier. To help encourage its growth, make sure you’re feeding probiotic-rich foods, along with prebiotics to help feed the probiotics. You can also feed a supplement.
  3. Apple cider vinegar. Vinegar helps by restoring your dog’s healthy pH levels, stopping yeast overgrowth. While you don’t want to use it on broken skin (it will sting), it can be used as a rinse to help stop the yeast. Simply mix it with water and wipe it all over your dog’s coat.
  4. Pau D’arco. This antifungal from the rain forests of South America contains several different compounds that can kill yeast. You can give it as a dried herb, or use it in a topical supplement. Canine Herbalist Rita Hogan recommends dosing twice daily with food, in these amounts:
    • 100 mg for extra small dogs
    • 200 mg for small dogs
    • 300 mg for medium dogs
    • 400 mg for large dogs
    • 500 mg for extra large dogs

While yeast infections can be cured, note that some dogs are prone to recurrent infections, or chronic yeast. The best way to prevent a possible occurrence is to take care of your dog’s immune system properly. When you treat the root of the problem, you are not only taking care of the possible yeast infection but other potential skin issues that are a result of problems that originate in the digestive tract.