Understanding Dog Paw Yeast Infections: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments
November 20, 2023 | 3 min read
Updated November 20, 2023
By Dr. Wendy Wilkins, DVM, PhD
Jennifer Rowan-Hitchcock, DVM
Fact checked by
Primrose Moss, VetMB MRCVS
Are you worried that your dog might have a yeast infection in their paw? A yeast infection in a dog's paw can be a bothersome and uncomfortable condition.
Fortunately, these types of infections are fairly easy to detect and respond well to treatment if caught early. The key to catching them early is knowing what to look for.
In this article, we'll explore the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for these infections. By gaining a comprehensive understanding of paw yeast infections, you'll be equipped to provide your canine companion with the care and attention they need.
- Dog paw yeast infections are most often caused by an overgrowth of the yeast species Malassezia pachydermatis.
- Allergies are the most common underlying reason why dogs get yeast infections on their paws.
- Common signs of paw yeast infections include paw licking due to persistent itching, redness, unpleasant odor, and hair loss.
- Medicated shampoos are used to treat mild-to-moderate paw yeast infections.
- Severe paw yeast infections may require several months of treatment with oral antifungal medications.
- Preventive measures such as proper paw hygiene, underlying allergy management, immune system support, and regular veterinary check-ups can help prevent paw yeast infections and reduce the risk of recurrence.
What is a dog paw yeast infection?
A dog paw yeast infection is a fungal infection caused by an overgrowth of yeast on the skin of a dog's paw or paws. The culprit is usually Malassezia pachydermatis, a yeast species that is normally found in small numbers on the healthy skin of most animals.
However, when conditions are right, the yeast can begin to overgrow. This overgrowth of yeast results in an infection that can cause skin irritation, itching, inflammation, redness, and a bad odor. It can also affect the dog's nails and cause them to become brittle or discolored.
Why do dogs get yeast infections?
Yeast likes to grow in warm, moist environments such as the space between a dog’s toes. It is also more likely to cause a skin infection when the surface of the skin is damaged, or added moisture from sweat, saliva, or frequent contact with water is present. A combination of these factors creates the perfect situation for the yeast to invade the skin and rapidly multiply.
Several known predisposing factors can lead to a yeast infection in dog paws:
- Allergies: Allergies are the most common cause of yeast infections on dogs’ paws. Allergies can weaken the skin barrier, making the dog more susceptible to infections. They also cause itchy skin which leads to scratching and licking; these damage the skin and make them more likely to develop yeast infections.
- Medications: Certain medications, such as antibiotics and steroids, can lead to paw yeast infections in dogs. Antibiotics can disrupt the natural microbial balance of the skin by killing beneficial bacteria, allowing yeast to proliferate. Steroids can suppress the immune system, making dogs more susceptible to yeast overgrowth.
- Genetic Predisposition: Several dog breeds are known to be more susceptible to skin yeast infections, including the Basset Hound, Boxer, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Cocker Spaniel, Dachshund, German Shepherd, Poodle, Shih Tzu and West Highland White Terrier breeds.
While these factors can increase a dog's likelihood of developing a paw yeast infection, they do not guarantee that every dog will develop one. Other factors such as environmental conditions and overall health also influence the occurrence of yeast infections in dogs.
How can I tell if my dog’s paw has a yeast infection?
Yeast infections on a dog’s paws can range from mild to severe. Fortunately, it is usually easy to tell if a dog has a yeast infection if you know what to look for.
Dog owners should watch for the following signs and symptoms that may indicate a paw yeast infection in their dogs:
- Constant itching: Dogs that frequently lick or chew their paws may be trying to alleviate the intense itching and discomfort caused by a yeast infection.
- Redness and inflammation: The affected paw or paws may appear red, swollen, or inflamed. The skin may also feel warm to the touch.
- Unpleasant odor: Yeast infections often have a noticeable, unpleasant odor. Dog owners may notice that their paws smell musty, "yeasty", or even "cheesy".
- Discharge or sores: There may be a discharge present or sores between the toes or around the edges of the paw pads. These may appear as small bumps, open sores, or scaly patches.
- Changes in paw appearance: The affected paw may have flaky, crusty or thickened skin, and a greasy texture or appearance.
- Limping or reluctance to walk: Severe paw yeast infections can be painful, which may cause the dog to limp on the affected paw or become reluctant to stand or walk on it.
- Hair loss: Hair loss may occur in the areas surrounding the yeast infection. The affected skin may appear bald or have patches of missing fur.
These signs and symptoms can vary depending on the individual dog and the stage of the infection. If dog owners suspect a paw yeast infection, they should consult with a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis.
Yeast infection treatments for dogs
There are two different methods of treating yeast infections in dogs. The most commonly used treatments are topical medications, which are products that are applied directly to the affected skin and paws. Oral medications are also available and are typically used in more severe cases.
Topical medications can be used to treat mild-to-moderate paw yeast infections. These products are generally in the form of creams, ointments, or medicated shampoos. Some topical treatments also have antibacterial properties to help treat secondary bacterial infections.
Before any form of topical medication can be applied, the affected area must first be thoroughly cleaned using a mild, pet-safe cleanser. This helps to remove accumulated grease, crusts, or other debris that may interfere with absorption of the topical medication.
1. Antifungal creams and ointments are generally used for small, localized areas such as between the toes or for a dog paw pad yeast infection. This makes it easy to consistently apply.
The disadvantage of topical creams and ointments is that dogs who are already licking their paws are very likely to lick off the medication. An Elizabethan collar (“cone”) or other similar physical barrier will likely be needed.
2. Medicated shampoos are the preferred treatment for most mild-to-moderate paw yeast infections. These shampoos are designed to be used on the entire body, but they can also be used on just the paws if that is the only affected area.
These shampoos usually contain antifungal ingredients such as miconazole, ketoconazole, or climbazole. They often also contain sulfur or salicylic acid, which helps reduce scaling and crusting.
The shampoo is mixed with water, massaged into the dogs' paws until fully lathered, and then left on for 3 to 5 minutes before being completely rinsed off and the paws dried. This needs to be repeated 3 times a week for a minimum of four weeks, or as long as it takes to resolve the infection.
Veterinarians generally prescribe oral antifungal medications for severe cases of yeast infections, or when cases do not respond to topical treatments.
Oral medications include prescription drugs such as ketoconazole, itraconazole, and fluconazole. These medications are often given for several weeks to months before the yeast infection is completely under control.
Like any medication, oral antifungal treatments may have side effects. Due to the potential side effects, especially those related to liver function, dogs receiving oral antifungal treatments need to be closely monitored with regular blood tests.
In addition to medications to treat the yeast infection, your veterinarian may recommend treatments to address any underlying causes contributing to the infection. This will improve treatment success as well as helping to prevent recurrent infections.
Additional treatments may include:
- Antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections.
- Allergy management through dietary changes, environmental modifications and medication if needed.
- Immune system support using supplements such as probiotics or omega-3 fatty acids.
- Targeted treatment for underlying medical conditions like hormonal imbalances or autoimmune disorders.
- Maintaining proper paw hygiene to prevent yeast overgrowth.
Do dog paw yeast infections respond well to treatment?
Dog paw yeast infections generally respond well to treatment when diagnosed and addressed early. Dogs with severe infections or underlying conditions may require several months of treatment before the infection is eliminated.
In order to ensure the best possible outcome and reduce the risk of recurrence, follow the veterinarian's instructions for treatment, complete the full course of medication, and maintain proper paw hygiene.
Regular monitoring and follow-up with the veterinarian are also essential to assess the dog's response to treatment and make any necessary adjustments to ensure complete resolution of the infection.
How to prevent paw yeast infections in your dog
While some dogs never experience yeast infections in their paws, others may have repeated infections. If your dog is prone to paw yeast infections, here are some steps you can take:
- For dogs with underlying allergies, work with your veterinarian to identify and manage the allergies through dietary modifications, environmental controls, or appropriate medication.
- Give your dog dietary supplements that can help reduce allergies and support a strong immune system.
- Regularly clean and dry your dog's paws, especially after walks or activities that expose them to moisture or dirt. Pay attention to the areas between the toes and paw pads.
- Trim the hair around your dog's paws to prevent excessive moisture retention and the accumulation of debris that can contribute to yeast overgrowth.
- Feed your dog a balanced, high-quality diet that supports their overall health and immune system function.
- Limit your dog's exposure to excessively wet or humid environments and keep their bedding and living areas clean, dry, and well-ventilated.
- Use gentle, pet-safe cleansers and avoid harsh chemicals when cleaning your dog's paws or their living areas.
- Most importantly, regular veterinary check ups will help to identify new infections early when they are easiest to treat.
Final words on paw yeast infection
Yeast infections on dogs’ paws can be a troublesome condition for both dogs and their owners. However, with proper understanding and timely intervention, these infections can be effectively managed and prevented.
If your dog is showing signs of a paw yeast infection, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible to discuss the best treatment options for your pet. With appropriate care and attention, you can help keep your dog's paws healthy and free from infection.
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Foods themselves do not directly cause yeast infections in a dog's paws. However, dogs with allergies to certain foods may be more prone to developing yeast infections. Identifying and managing underlying food allergies, with the guidance of a veterinarian, can help reduce the likelihood of yeast infections.
Using vinegar on your dog's paws to treat yeast infections is not recommended without consulting a veterinarian. While vinegar has some antifungal properties, it can also be too harsh and irritating for a dog's sensitive skin. It's best to consult a veterinarian for appropriate and safe antifungal treatments for dogs.
If left untreated, a yeast infection can worsen and lead to secondary complications. For example, the infection can spread and affect larger areas of the skin, leading to more severe itching, inflammation, and discomfort for the dog. Untreated yeast infections can also result in secondary bacterial infections, skin damage, and even severely compromise the dog's overall health.
Dog paw yeast infections are typically not contagious to other dogs or humans. The yeast species that cause these infections are normally present on all dogs' skin in small numbers, and transmission of yeast to another animal or person is rare unless there are underlying factors compromising the immune system.
Using human medications on a dog's paws is not recommended. Dogs have different sensitivities and using inappropriate medications can be ineffective or potentially harmful. Therefore, it is best to consult a veterinarian for suitable and safe antifungal treatments for your dog.
Mild infections may improve within a few days to a couple of weeks with treatment, while severe or recurrent infections may take longer, sometimes several months. Following the veterinarian's instructions and completing the full course of treatment is important for proper healing and to prevent recurrence of the infection.
There are several steps your veterinarian may take to confirm a yeast infection in your dog’s paw. Firstly, they will do a thorough physical examination of the affected area, checking for signs of yeast infection (redness, inflammation, discharge, lesions, odor, skin texture changes). They may also take a collection of a skin sample using an impression smear or acetate tape smear to collect yeast cells or a skin scraping with a sterile blade to collect skin cells, bacteria, yeast, or debris from the surface layers of the skin. They will then perform a microscopic examination of the sample after staining with a special dye to identify and confirm the presence of yeast cells. In the case of severe or treatment-resistant cases, a fungal culture may be performed by taking a small sample from the affected area and incubating it on a culture medium to identify the specific type of yeast present.
Your veterinarian will most likely want to determine why your dog has a yeast infection in the first place and may recommend additional testing to investigate. Additional tests may include allergy testing to identify the specific allergens responsible for triggering an immune response, a skin biopsy to determine the severity of the yeast infection, how deep the infection goes, or the presence of concurrent problems like a bacterial skin infection, skin scrapings from other areas of the body to check for parasites such as mange mites and a blood tests to evaluate for systemic illnesses, such as hormone imbalances or diseases like Cushing’s syndrome that can make dogs more susceptible to skin infections.These tests can aid in identifying the underlying reason for the yeast infection, which allows for a more comprehensive treatment approach and more successful long-term management of the condition.
Dr. Wendy Wilkins, DVM, PhD
A Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and a PhD in Veterinary Epidemiology, Dr. Wendy Wilkins boasts over 20 years of diverse expertise in clinical practice, research, academia, and regulatory medicine. Her childhood growing up on a mixed farm instilled in her a lasting love for all animals, but especially dogs.