Ouch! Your pup’s in pain! Scratching, howling, pawing at his head, your pooch is trying to tell you that something is wrong. Dog ear yeast infections can escalate quickly, so learn how to identify and treat them quickly.No one wants to see their pets suffer. Yeast infections in your dog's ear can range from uncomfortable to painful, so being able to identify and act quickly is important. In this article, we’ll educate ourselves on:
- What is yeast?
- What is a yeast infection in a dog?
- What are the signs of a dog ear yeast infection?
- What are the symptoms of a dog ear yeast infection?
- What are the treatments of a dog ear yeast infection?
- What are preventative measures you can take as an owner?
What Is Yeast?
Yeast isn’t actually a bad thing, in the right quantities. It’s a naturally occurring fungus that’s useful for all sorts of stuff like bread, beer, and keeping your pup’s skin healthy.
Just like humans are supposed to have the right amount of bacteria on and in our bodies, dogs are also supposed to have a healthy amount of yeast in their skin and ears to keep the tissues happy and healthy. In dogs, the type of yeast normally found in the skin is called Malassezia pachydermatis – and it’s not the bread-making kind.
Just as an imbalance of these organisms in a human could cause problems, so too can yeast grow imbalance in your pup’s skin and ears – sometimes wildly so – and this can lead to a host of problems, not the least of which include mild to severe pain for your pet.
An overgrowth of this type of yeast is called Malassezia dermatitis, or more simply, a yeast infection.
Treating a yeast infection involves several steps, but the goal is to reduce the yeast population down to healthy levels that your dog's immune system can keep in check.
The trick isn’t to get rid of all the yeast – that would cause its own problem. Rather, it’s to make sure that the balance of yeast in the skin remains right where it’s supposed to be.
As we continue, we’ll talk about what to do if things are already out of balance, and we’ll also talk about what to do to prevent imbalance in the first place.
What Causes Yeast to Grow?
So we know that a yeast infection in dogs is an imbalance – but what causes the imbalance?
Yeast thrives in dark, warm, and moist areas, and your dog’s ears are the ideal environment for yeast overgrowth. Underbelly, paws, skin folds, and armpits can also be affected, but your dog’s ears are the most common site for yeast infection in dogs.
Here is a quick breakdown of why yeast can bloom rapidly, and lead to irritation and infection:
Yeast is an organism that likes to grow in warm, wet places. Your pup’s inner body temperature is likely around 101 degrees Fahrenheit, and that’s a perfectly comfortable temperature for the yeast.
At normal temperatures (and moisture levels) it’s likely that yeast would live and die at a healthy exchange rate on your pup’s skin.
Yeast loves warm temperatures and the hollow of your dog's ear, in between his paws, and between flaps of his skin are all places that are nice and warm. When you combine that variable with yeast’s second desirable living condition, you get a recipe for trouble.
Moisture in its many forms seems to be a culprit that appears time and time again.
Yeast loves heat, but it also loves moisture, humidity, and wetness of most kinds. No wonder, then, that dogs living in humid climates are way more likely to develop yeast infections.
Now, normally the inside of your dog's ear is warm and dry. The warm part is fine, but the keyword here is dry. Yeast is less likely to proliferate out of normal bounds in dry environments.
The problem is there are a variety of situations where that environment might get wet – perfectly innocent reasons like:
- Taking your dog for a swim on the beach
- Playing outside with a sprinkler
- Giving your dog a bath
Additionally, dogs who live in generally humid climates are way more likely to develop yeast infections than other dogs, and generally, dogs are more likely to develop ear yeast infections during the summer than in any other season.
It’s important to note yeast infections can occur in more places than just the ears. Under similar conditions as above, it’s possible to see a yeast infection rash on a dog's belly, or even in their paws.
What Causes A Dog Ear Yeast Infection?
Humidity alone isn't typically enough to cause a yeast infection in dogs. Warmth and water create the ideal environment for yeast to bloom, but there are health reasons that can trigger yeast growth. Dogs with certain health conditions may be much more likely to suffer from yeast overgrowth.
Here are some of the most common health issues in dogs that can trigger a yeast bloom:
Allergies are one of the number one triggers for dog skin yeast infections. This is because damaged skin is less able to fight infection and balance yeast levels. Dogs who suffer from allergies are likely going to have yeast issues if the allergic reactions go unchecked.
Common environmental allergies, like hay fever or pollen, often present themselves as a skin reaction. Redness, extreme itch, and hot spots are all common reactions in dogs with environmental allergies. The damaged skin creates an additional opportunity for yeast to populate on the skin.
Check out Seasonal Allergies in Dogs to learn more about how to manage your dog's reactions and keep them comfortable.
When dogs show signs of food allergies, the issues are most commonly caused by poor digestion. With 70% of the immune system located in the digestive tract, poorly digested nutrients can easily trigger a response that presents itself as inflammation in the skin.
This is why food allergies are often incorrectly diagnosed at home and we tend to treat the skin issues instead of the root cause of the reactions. Learn more in our blog - Food Allergies in Dogs.
There’s a reason we disinfect open wounds. Gashes, cuts, and exposed skin are the perfect breeding grounds for infections, and there are a variety of reasons your pup might find himself with torn tissue inside his ear such as:
- Scratching his own ears too hard
- Unintentional injury through play with other dogs
- Fights with other dogs or animals
- Pests like fleas, ticks, or mites
Too Much Cleaning
We definitely want to keep those ears clean, but too much of a good thing can be a bad thing, and that goes for cleaning, too. If you go digging around in your dog’s sensitive tissues without knowing what you’re doing – and you do so too frequently – you risk injuring the tissue or exposing it to too much water or chemicals.
Not all ear cleaners are good for sensitive skin. Parfumes and chemicals in some ear cleaners can be irritating to dogs with sensitive or damaged skin. Look for natural alternatives and gentler ingredients. Here are a few of our favourites:
- Too much wax
- Other infections
- Autoimmune disorders
Signs of A Dog Ear Yeast Infection
There are many signs that point to your dog having an ear yeast infection. In this section, we’ll explore the signs your pup is likely to give you as well as signs you can look out for proactively.
If your pup has an infection, the first signs are likely to come from him. Infections can be painful and lead to a variety of health side effects, and it’s likely those effects will show in your dog’s behaviour.
Displays of Pain
Let’s talk about some dog yeast infection symptoms. If you’ve ever had an ear infection, you know they can be painful. Your pup will experience his ear infection as itchiness, swelling, soreness, and pain. This is likely to result in him:
- Scratching excessively
- Pawing or covering ears
Displays of Confusion
Just like in humans, a dog’s ear contains organs that help it maintain balance and orient itself in the world. If ear infections get bad enough, they can start to damage or inflame parts of the ear that affect your dog's mobility. Keep an eye out for signs such as:
- Loss of balance
- Walking in circles
- Loss of hearing
- Unusual eye movements
- Excessive head shaking
If you notice any of the behaviours above from your dog, then it's a good idea to take a closer look at the ear to see if there are any visual clues or smells that indicate your dog has an ear yeast infection. Even without behavioural changes, it's a good idea to routinely keep an eye out for any signs of infection.
With a dog ear yeast infection, it’s not uncommon for the skin around the ear (or other affected area) to show clear signs of disturbance. Unfortunately, your pup’s not going to kindly inform you in words that these signs represent something’s wrong, so it’s up to you to notice if your pup has:
- Red or swollen skin
- Crusted or peeling skin
- Abnormal hair loss around the suspected infected area
Look for excess wax, blood, pus, or any other fluids in and around the ear. Your dog's body has its own system of checks and balances, so when irritation or infection are detected, his body will react to attempt to heal itself.
An infected ear may show signs of abnormal or excessive fluids that are designed to protect and heal, or remove threats.
Not only can we identify infections visually with the clues above, but we can also literally sniff them out. Infections smell and yeast has a particularly strong and recognizable odour. Be extra wary if the suspected infected area smells cheesy or musty.
Symptoms of a Dog Ear Yeast Infections
There are plenty of signs to indicate that your dog may have an overgrowth of yeast in his ears, but it's also important to spot the symptoms of a yeast infection in your dog. These are the consequences and the toll it takes on your dog's body.
Though treating the yeast infection is important to ultimately stop the discomfort, you may also be able to provide some relief by treating the individual symptoms too. Here are the most common symptoms of a dog ear yeast infection and how to treat them:
This is the number one symptom and usually precedes other problems. The non-stop itch makes your dog scratch and shakes her ears aggressively. The constant scratching can easily damage the delicate skin of the ear, creating more opportunities for yeast to grow and bacteria to enter the site. This creates a risk for other types of infections.
Soothing the itch with natural, topical treatments can help while you treat the underlying issues. Natural anti-inflammatories, like omega 3 fatty acids, can help to reduce the itchiness and prevent the infection from driving your dog nuts.
If your dog's yeast infection is linked to a persistent allergy, then you may want to try something with a bit of a broader range, like Naturvet Aller-911. This formula has multiple anti-inflammatories and antioxidants to ease symptoms and boost his immune system.
Head shaking can be very dangerous, especially in dogs with floppy ears. The forceful shakes can break small blood vessels in the ears causing blood to pool, called an aural hematoma. This is very painful and will often require surgical treatment.
So treating the itch using the methods above will help, but if your dog just can't stop shaking his head, then consider outfitting him with a cone collar. Your dog won't like it, and it won't stop the shake, but it will limit how much his ears can flop around and reduce the risk of damage from shaking.
Above we discussed the possibility of advanced infections affecting your pet's inner ear function. This can lead to poor balance and could affect your dog's ability to move safely. If your dog's gate changes, or if you notice him having difficulty keeping his balance, then you need to call your vet immediately.
First, you need to rule out other possible and more dangerous causes for this behaviour, and second, you need to make sure that the infection doesn't do any permanent damage.
Call your vet. This should be the very first thing you do. They will advise you on how to proceed. Also, limit your dog to safe spaces to prevent injury until you can get them to the vet clinic.
Stop any home treatments unless otherwise directed by your vet, and do not stick anything in your dog's ear, like a q-tip or your finger, to try to clean out the inner ear. You will injure your dog, so please leave this up to a vet.
How to Treat Dog Ear Yeast Infections
The most important advice we have about treating dog ear yeast infections is to always follow the advice of your vet. Your dog’s health and even life may hang in the balance, so it’s crucial to trust the word of a professional over the word of a blog on the internet.
However, if you’ve been asking yourself “how can I treat my dogs yeast infection at home,” in our experience, it’s likely your vet will recommend a treatment program that combines:
- Regular cleaning
- Diet Changes
- Prescription medications
It’s likely the first step of treatment involves cleaning, and your vet will probably start the process off for you. Cleaning is important because it improves the efficacy of topical medicines. Why?
Debris, dirt, and other clutter inside the ear have the effect of trapping yeast in and against the skin. It also gets in the way as we try to apply antibiotics or antifungal medicines.
Therefore, the first step in applying such medicine is to make sure it can reach contact with the skin unimpeded by all that excess garbage. Check out our tips dog ear cleaning tips below.
In addition to your regular ear cleanings, there are some natural products that can help fight yeast overgrowth. Both diluted apple cider vinegar and coconut oil have anti-fungal properties and can be used after an ear cleaning to reduce the yeast population in your dog’s ear.
Coconut oil can be gently applied to the outer surface of the ear and massaged into the skin. This will reduce yeast in the outer ear and moisturize irritated skin.
Apple cider vinegar can be diluted and poured into the ear, similar to the ear wash we mentioned above. In addition to killing yeast, apple cider vinegar will help rebalance the pH of the skin and make the ear a less hospitable environment for new yeast to thrive.
As we said at the beginning, yeast is a natural part of your dog’s body, so the food you feed your dog is also the food you feed the yeast on and in their body. Persistent yeast infections are often associated with allergies or digestive issues, so changing their diet might be one of the easiest ways to stop and prevent dog ear yeast infections.
One of the favourite food sources for yeast in the body is sugar, so if your dog is eating a diet high in sugary carbohydrates, then you may be providing a consistent meal for the yeast to keep populating.
Carbs aren’t bad for your dog, but they are often overused in commercial pet foods. Look for a dog food that is low in carbohydrates and high in animal protein. There are some good kibble options for this, but consider a canned, freeze-dried, or raw diet, as they don’t require nearly as many carbohydrates as a dry kibble would.
Here are a few dog food options for controlling yeast:
Depending on the type of infection your dog has (which may or may not even be a yeast infection), your vet might prescribe a range of medications to use. This way you’ll know exactly what to give your dog for a yeast infection.
The type of medication will depend on the severity and the cause of the yeast infection, so make sure you talk to your vet before trying to medicate at home.
How to Clean Dog Ears
Cleaning your dog's ears at home is not hard. You just need to make sure you have the right tools and know how to use them.
You will need the following tools handy to clean your dog's ears:
- Make-up pads or small microfibre cloth
- Ear Cleaner
- Towel (for clean-up)
Don't Stick Stuff in Your Dog's Ear!
When it comes to cleaning your dog's ears, the number one error that people make is that they use q-tips or their finger deep in the ear to try to remove debris. This is wrong. It can be very dangerous for your dog, so please don't insert anything into your dog's ear unless you have specific instructions from your vet.
Instead, your cleaning should focus on the outer surface of the ear. You can use a make-up pad, a cotton ball, or a microfibre cloth to clear away any waxy debris or build-up.
The cleaner that you choose will do the work of cleaning the inner ear. I know it's hard to resist, and most of us are stubborn enough to still use q-tips in our own ears, but please, please do stick anything in your dog's ears.
Pick a Good Dog Ear Cleaner
Your next step is choosing the right cleaner. There are different types of cleaners, and they are used differently, so read the instructions on the bottle before you assume how to use it. There are two main types of ear cleaners:
Dog Ear Cleaning Drops
Try a pet ear cleaning solution like Tropiclean Dual Action Ear Cleaner and a small make-up pad to remove debris, wax, and dirt from the outer surface of the ear. Do not insert anything into the ear, as you could end up doing more damage than good.
Place a few drops, depending on the instructions for the product, into the ear canal, and gently massage the ear from the outside base. This will loosen debris and it will slowly work its way out of the ear to the surface where you can wipe it away safely.
Dog Ear Wash
A dog ear wash, like Naturvet Ear Wash, is another great option if your pet's ear is tender from the infection and wiping it is not an option. Drip some of the solution into the ear, most solutions say to fill the ear canal about 1/3 of the way, and gently massage the base of the ear from the outside.
You want to leave the solution in for 10-20 seconds, so keep your dog still and keep massaging. Grab a small microfibre cloth or a cotton ball and tilt your dog's head back up to let the liquid drain out onto your cloth. The excess liquid that drains from the ear will help pull out debris and bacteria.
After this, your dog will want to shake. That's ok. So long as your dog doesn't have an aural hematoma or severe ear trauma, letting her shake out the excess liquid will help dry the area and dislodge the wax and other debris.
Caution: this may be messy, so be prepared for some clean-up. Have some pet wipes handy to clean up your pet's fur is needed.
6 Dog Ear Cleaning Tips
Ear cleaning is an important part of the grooming process, but that doesn't mean that your dog will like it. like other invasive grooming methods, ear cleaning takes some practice to help you both get used to the process. Here are a few tips to help you get started:
Choose the Right Position
The angle that you approach dog ear cleaning for will depend on the shape and size of your dog, as well as both of your levels of comfort. Having your dog lay on his side gives you a really easy angle and keeps their ear turned up. It's great for small dogs and dogs that have a limited range of motion in their neck, like a pug.
Bigger dogs may be more comfortable sitting, but you'll need to keep their head tilted to the side so that their ear is facing upwards. For floppy-eared dogs, fold the ear back so that it's out of your way.
Have a Distraction Handy
If your dog is less than cooperative, have a chew or toy handy that can give them something to focus on while you groom them. We love Sodapup Licking Mats because they give you more time to fuss with our dog's ear while they clean up every last inch of the mat.
A second set of hands can be great for keeping your dog in the right position and calm while you work. Choose someone your dog is comfortable with and ask them to hold or pet your dog while you clean their ear out.
Take Breaks in Between Ears
If your dog is feeling anxious about this process, then do one ear at a time and give her a break in between. Have some low-energy playtime or a cuddle sesh to help you both destress before you go back to the other ear.
Offer a tasty reward during your break and right before you get started again to help your dog associate the experience with something he loves.
Be Prepared for a Mess
If you are just trying to clean your dog's ears for the first time, then it's almost guaranteed that your dog is going to have an immediate reaction to the cleaner in his ears. Firstly, it's cold, so it will surprise him. Second, it will feel a little scary because he doesn't know what it is.
The usual reaction is that your dog will flip his head up, shake his ears, or otherwise try to escape the area. This will result in ear cleaner flying out of his head and all over you, your floor, and your walls.
Choose a room that is easy to clean, like the bathroom, or keep your towel right there to catch the liquid as soon as your dog tries to raise his head. Or just use it to shield yourself.
Swaddle Little Dogs
If your small dog is especially nervous about ear cleaning, you can use your towel to swaddle them like a baby. This can have a comforting effect, similar to a pressure vest, but also helps keep them immobilized while you work.
Calming tools like a Thundershirt could also be used if towelling your dog is not an option. They won't restrict movement but can help your pet feel safe.
How to Prevent Dog Ear Yeast Infections
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
To solve this problem before it happens, it’s important to educate yourself on everything in this article, talk to your vet, and do your own research. Knowledge is power. That’s step one.
After that, make sure you regularly check your pup’s ears for signs of discharge, smell, redness, swelling, or hair loss. This is especially true if you live in humid climates, or if your dog regularly goes swimming or plays in water.
Also, make sure to keep your dog’s ears dry, especially after contact with water. One thing that can help with this is to have your dog’s ear hair trimmed regularly, preferably by a professional to avoid accidentally hurting him.
- Know the signs of yeast and be able to recognize abnormal smells and debris in your dog’s ears.
- Check your dog’s ears regularly. Cleaning your dog’s ears monthly is a good idea, but if your dog is prone to yeast infections, then you should be checking her ears weekly to catch problems early.
- Keep your dog’s ears dry. There are lots of ways for your dog's ears to get wet, like swimming, rain, and bathing, so do your best to remove moisture after they get wet.
- Consider the quality of your pet's diet. If your dog has recurring ear issues, then you may be feeding the yeast with a carb-heavy or poor-quality dog food.
- Get regular vet checks. Even with this knowledge, you may not be able to recognize issues as easily or as early as your veterinarian can.
Does your dog have a yeast issue? Share your tips and struggles with dog ear yeast infections in the comments below!