Does your dog have itchy skin? Recurrent hot spots or gunky ears? Does she lick and chew at her feet?
This doesn’t necessarily mean she has allergies, it could a yeast infection.
Yeast: The Allergy Imitator
Not all skin issues are caused by allergies and in many cases, the cause of your dog’s itchy skin can be found in her gut.
Yeast is a fungus and is in all dogs (and people) as a normal part of their flora. Yeast lives on your dog’s skin and inside her gut, where it normally lives with other healthy flora, as part of the balanced immune system.
But when the immune system is stressed, yeast can begin to over-populate the gut.
Your dog’s skin is the largest organ in her body … and when yeast populations grow out of control in the gut, the body tries to get rid of the fungus.
This is when you will start to see the effects in your pet. It’s called a yeast infection.
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How To Tell The Difference Between Yeast Infections And Allergies
There are a few telltale signs that will help you figure out what’s causing your dog’s problems:
• Chewing or licking the feet, and dark rusty-red hair between the toes. The hair is often red or rust-colored because of the yeast (not because of the licking).
• Scratching the ears, or head shaking. Ear mites can also cause intense itching in the ears, so make sure your vet actually tests for these things first before diagnosing your dog
• Cyclic symptoms (appearing in the spring and “going away” in the fall). This is often confused with “grass allergies” and other spring and summer symptoms.
• Hair loss on the tail and upper back.
• Speckles (like tiny black dots) on the underbelly, or grayish or rust coloration around the genitals. Regular grooming should reveal this early indicator of yeast.
• A foul, funky smell and greasy hair (seborrhea), often accompanied by heavy dandruff. This is an active fungal infection of the hair follicles.
• Any black skin, especially where there’s also hair loss.
The longer your dog’s yeast infection goes untreated, the harder it will be to resolve, so it’s important to look for these early signs.
Treating Your Dog’s Yeast Infection
Since yeast infections start in the gut, one of the first steps in treating yeast is to look at your dog’s diet. In order to grow, yeast needs to eat. And yeast loves sugar.
Your dog might not be eating candy and drinking soda … but foods that contain any type of starch or carbohydrate still feed the yeast in her gut.
Carbohydrates are complex chains made up of sugars. When your dog eats them, her body converts them into sugars and this feeds her yeast. Foods like corn, potatoes, rice, peas, sweet potatoes, oats are examples of high carbohydrate foods.
Take a slice of bread (which is made of carbohydrates), bite off a piece and hold it in your mouth for half a minute. You’ll notice that it starts to taste sweet.
That’s because the amylase in your saliva is breaking that starch down into sugar. The same thing happens in your dog’s gut … and that sugar feeds her yeast.
In the wild, the foods your dog’s ancestors ate (as well as the foods that our human ancestors ate), contained about 4% starch.
Most commercial pet foods have ten times that amount! Even grain-free foods are usually full of potatoes, sweet potatoes or tapioca and have just as much starch as other kibbles.
The solution is to feed your dog a food low in starches.
Supporting The Gut
There are other things you can do to help prevent or treat yeast infections in your dog, and once again, these involve the gut.
- First, limit antibiotic use. Antibiotics will destroy the balance in the gut and allow yeast to bloom.
- Second, avoid toxins that will stress the immune system. This includes any unnecessary vaccines, drugs and chemicals, including pesticides contained in flea and tick preventatives. These all interfere with your dog’s ability to keep her intestinal flora in balance. Focus on building good health and supporting your dog’s immune system.
- Third, give your dog probiotics and prebiotics to support the balance of her intestinal flora.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that help populate your dog’s gut with “good” bacteria to support her digestive health.
Balanced intestinal flora are not just important for digestive health … but 80% of the immune system lives in your dog’s gut, so this will strengthen her immune system as well
You can give your dog probiotic supplements or probiotic whole foods.
There are many probiotic supplements available for both dogs and humans and the choices can be overwhelming. A good rule is to look for a refrigerated product. Ask your specialty pet store or health food store for advice on a quality brand.
Dosage: If you buy a product made for dogs, follow the dosing directions on the container. You can also buy a human probiotic supplement. If you do, assume the directions are for a 150 pound human and adjust the dose to your dog’s weight.
Most probiotics are dairy based but soil based probiotics can be a better choice as dairy-based probiotics can aggravate allergies in many dogs.
Probiotic Whole Foods
It’s always best to give whole foods instead of a pill if you can … so an even better way to give your dog probiotics is to feed her probiotic whole foods. Some examples are kefir, fermented fish stock or fermented vegetables. These foods will add natural probiotics as well as other valuable nutrients and enzymes to your dog’s meals.
There are now several brands of fermented goat milk products for dogs. Fermented milk contains 200 different probiotic strains that may do a better job at surviving stomach acids because of the proteins that accompany them.
Three ounces of milk or kefir is about 60 calories, so don’t forget to cut back elsewhere in your dog’s diet to compensate!
Fermented vegetables have the same benefits and you can feed about a teaspoon per 15 pounds of body weight. You can buy fermented vegetables or make your own from many recipes found online. Start with small amounts and work your way up.
Adding a prebiotic will make your probiotics more effective. Prebiotics are non-digestible food ingredients that feed the probiotics in the gut. You can buy prebiotic supplements like inulin and fructo-oligosaccharides. As with all human supplements, assume the dose is for a 150 lb person and adjust for your dog’s weight.
You can also use whole food sources of prebiotics. A couple of good ones for dogs are:
- Raw dandelion greens: sprinkle on food 1 teaspoon of dried greens per 20 lbs of body weight per day.
- Garlic: feed 1 teaspoon of chopped raw garlic per 30 lbs of your dog’s weight per day.
(Looking for a great prebiotic and probiotic combination? Click Here)
As well as being a good natural prebiotic, garlic also has antifungal properties so that’s another reason to feed it to your dog. For maximum health benefits, chop fresh garlic and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes before adding it to your dog’s food. Exposing garlic to air releases allicin, the substance that provides garlic’s many health benefits. Here’s some more information about safely giving garlic to your dog.
Coconut oil has antifungal properties and is another good food to add to your yeasty dog’s diet.
It contains medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are made up of lauric acid, capric acid, caprylic acid, myristic acid and palmitic acid. All of these contribute to coconut oil’s antifungal as well as antibacterial and antiviral properties.
Always buy Virgin or Extra Virgin Coconut Oil (they’re the same thing), preferably organic (and non-GMO), cold pressed, and packaged in a glass jar. Start slowly to avoid loose stool and work up to 1 teaspoon per day per 10 lbs of body weight.
You can also use coconut oil topically, as you’ll see below.
Oil Of Oregano
Oil of oregano also has strong antifungal properties and is another good addition to your dog’s diet. It’s very powerful so a drop or two a day is plenty for most dogs. Don’t give it full strength but dilute it in either coconut oil or olive oil, using one drop of oil or oregano per teaspoon of olive or coconut oil. So if you’re already giving your dog coconut oil for her yeast, give it an extra boost with a drop of oil of oregano.
Here are two more supplements you can add to your dog’s diet to help boost her immune system:
Astragalus supports the liver and helps it do its job: ridding the body of toxins. Herbalist Greg Tilford recommends up to 10 drops of extract per 10 pounds of body weight, up to twice daily.
Milk Thistle Seed will prevent and repair damage to the liver and kidneys. Give your dog ¼ teaspoon per 20 pounds of body weight per day. Milk thistle shouldn’t be used as a daily supplement, but only for a few weeks at a time when the liver may be stressed. Think about using milk thistle if your dog is vaccinated, on heartworm meds or dewormers, flea or tick meds or sprays, drugs, has recently had surgery or when your dog is under stress (kenneling or a change in home).
Fighting Yeast On The Surface
Apple cider vinegar is a great solution for yeast, especially for dogs who love the water (because yeast loves water and moist, damp skin).
Fill a squeeze bottle (the kind with a long pointy end like ketchup bottles at a diner) with Bragg Organic Apple Cider Vinegar. Stick it in your dog’s fur and squeeze. Massage it around your dog’s body, and don’t forget the belly area too. This will help restore your dog’s healthy pH levels and discourage yeast.
Then, once a week, or more if needed, massage yeasty areas with this coconut oil mixture: Let extra virgin coconut oil melt in a small glass bottle holding about 8 oz. Add 10 drops of lavender oil and 2 drops of lemon essential oil. Shake to mix and massage it into your dog’s skin.
This coconut oil mix will last several months. Store it in a dark place. This recipe is from Rita Hogan of Farm Dog Naturals (FarmDogNaturals.com).
Dr Dee Blanco recommends using apple cider vinegar as an after-bath rinse for your dog. Before bathing, prepare a mixture of ¼ cup of apple cider vinegar to 1 gallon of filtered water (increase the quantities for a large or giant breed dog). Set the mixture aside while you bathe your dog. Use a coconut-based or unscented, organic shampoo. After bathing and rinsing your dog, gently pour the ACV mixture over her body and legs. Be careful to avoid her nose, ears and eyes.
Itchy Pet – Adelia Ritchie PhD Dogs Naturally Magazine July 2013
A Bulletproof Jacket For Your Dog Rodney Habib Dogs Naturally Magazine March 2015
Herbs for Pets: The Natural Way to Enhance Your Pet’s Life Mary L Wulff, Greg Tilford