Ask the Vet: Why Do Dogs Get Yeast Infections on Their Feet?

Dr. Ivana Crnec

When dogs get yeast infections on their feet, they tend to develop annoying signs such as licking and biting the paws. Not to mention, you may notice an unpleasant odor on your dog's paws. But why do dogs get yeast infections on their feet in the first place? And most of all, what can be done about it?

If you are wondering why dogs get yeast infections on their feet, most likely your dog is suffering from one. Not many things in life can be annoying as yeast infections. Humans get them too and they are not the easiest to get rid of. Veterinarian Dr. Ivana Crnec discusses yeast infections on dog feet and explains how it's likely to happen.

A Matter of Fungi

Why do dogs get yeast infections on their feet? In most cases fungi are to blame. Fungi are primarily responsible for the decomposition of organic material. They include yeasts and molds (and also mushrooms and rusts, but these forms of fungi do not cause infections in animals).

 In certain circumstances, usually associated with an underlying malfunction of the dog’s immune system, certain fungi can cause illness. Generally speaking, their spores can enter the body via the respiratory tract, or through a cut or a puncture of the skin.

Fungal diseases are divided in two categories: the common skin and mucous membrane conditions and much more rare systemic fungal infections that affect various organs of the body, including the lungs and the liver.

Yeast Infections in Dogs 

Paw yeast infections are particularly common in dogs. Fortunately they are not life-threatening and do not affect the overall quality of life. However, they are quite irritating and require veterinary medical attention.

What are yeasts? As mentioned, yeasts are fungal microscopic organisms that can be found literally everywhere. With more than 800 identified species, yeast play a plethora of different roles in different ecosystems. Some are used to make foods and drinks like bread and beer while others are pathogenic and cause medical issues.

Why Do Dogs Get Yeast Infections on Their Feet?

Why and when do yeasts cause problems? Both you and your beloved dog have countless yeasts on you at all times. Most of them are of no concern. In fact, they are part of you and your dog’s microscopic world. However, yeasts can cause problems in two specific situations: 

1) if you or your dog come into contact with a pathogenic species of yeast 

 2) if the normally living bacteria on yours or your dog’s skin experience problems that lead to abnormal growth of the benign yeast population.

This latter situation is much more common and luckily it is easier to diagnose, treat and control.

In a nutshell, same as humans, dogs have immune systems that keep the unwanted microorganisms at bay. However, if the immune system is weak or the organism comes in contact with an extremely powerful microorganism, the risk of infections is extremely high.

Yeast Infections on Dog Feet 

Yeast infections on the skin are particularly common. Usually they appear on areas of the skin that are moist and rarely exposed to sunlight. Therefore they can be found on the paws, armpits, ears and skin folds. 

The paws are the most commonly affected area, simply put because they are continuously moist and hidden from sunlight.

Paw yeast infections are caused by a specific type of fungi called Malassezia canis. The yeast Malassezia canis is an opportunist microorganism that thrives in hot and moist climates. 

When the conditions are ideal, this yeast reproduces uncontrollably fast and very soon invades a large portion of the skin. The yeast spreads on the paw rapidly, and if left untreated, it can easily spread to other body parts.

Under normal circumstances, the Malassezia canis is not dangerous. Unfortunately, scientist cannot determine the conditions that trigger this yeast to obtain pathogenic qualities.

 It is postulated that the transformation can be caused by the following underlying factors – compromised immunity system, suppressed immunity due to prolonged antibiotics use, allergies to certain types of fungi, external skin parasites, concurrent bacterial skin infections, cancer, hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, diet, unclean environment and lack of high-quality and nutritional food.

Are certain dogs at higher risk from paw yeast infections? The simple answer is yes. Certain dog breeds are at higher risk of developing yeast infections on their paws than others. Those breeds include:

· Cocker Spaniels

· West Highland White Terriers

· Bulldogs (due to the excessive skin folds)

· German Shepherds

· Basset Hounds

· Poodles

· Maltese Dogs

· Shih Tzus.

It is not well-determined why the above stated breeds are more prone to yeast infections.

Regardless of the breed, the condition can be quite common among dogs with hormonal imbalances, allergies and compromised immunity systems.

Signs of Paw Yeast Infections in Dogs

Dogs with yeast infections on their paws will exhibit the following sign and symptoms:

· Greasy and oily paws

· Bad odor (like rotten apple) around the affected area

· Intense and constant itching (manifested with licking and biting if the affected paw)

· Inflammation and irritation of the surrounding area

· Redness and warm sensation upon touch

· Thickening of the skin

· Presence of sores, flakes and crusts

· Sticky discharge

· Hair loss on and around the affected area.

Not all dogs exhibit all of the symptoms. However any combination of the above listed symptoms is indicative of yeast infection. Some symptoms can be transient and others can be constantly present. The primary symptom is smelly, rancid and itchy skin.

It should be well-noted that a dog with a yeast infection on its paws is more than likely to have yeast issues on other body parts as well. Since the yeast infection manifests in patches, affected dogs will have multiple patches across their bodies.

Treatment of Paw Yeast Infections in Dogs

The key to proper treatment lies in the identification of the underlying cause. The nature of the underlying cause determines the course of the treatment and the prognosis.

Deep infections require oral antifungals such as fluconazole, ketoconazole or terbinafine. More superficial infections can be addressed with topical antifungals (creams, ointments or even wipes). Bathing the affected paw in degreasing, disinfecting or antifungal shampoos is quite beneficial and speeds up the healing process significantly.

Last but not least, there are certain natural and holistic approaches to treating paw yeast infections. Those include using everyday substances such as coconut oil, apple cider vinegar or oregano oil. Adding kefir to the dog’s diet is another alternative approach. However, these remedies rarely work if used alone. To achieve better results and higher efficacy they need to be combined with the previously listed remedies and approaches.

Unless properly approached, the yeast infection can be a lifelong problem. Changing the underlying causes that led to Malassezia canis flare up, are the key to preventing future problems.  

About the Author

Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.

ivana

 

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