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Fungal infection in the skin and ears

Fungal infection in the skin and ears

Cecilie Hemsen Berg

Dogs can get fungal infections of the skin and is an overgrowth of normally occurring yeast organisms. There are typically 2 fungal organisms found on the skin: Candida and Malassezia. A characteristic of a fungal infection is a yeasty body odour that will occur in addition to itching and discomfort.

Why does your dog get a fungal infection?

A fungal infection is not considered contagious, but more like an overgrowth of normally occurring yeast organisms. Candida and Malassezia are the two yeast organisms that can damage the skin. They are part of the normal skin flora in dogs, but if there is an imbalance they can flourish and cause infection/inflammation. Candia is found in the mouth, nose, stomach, intestines, ears and genital openings. Malassezia is found on the skin surface and in the ear. Causes of yeast infections include:

  • Can occur secondary to an underlying problem, such as diabetes, allergy to fleabites, food allergy/-sensitivity, hormonal disorders (eg Cushing’s), seborrhea etc. 
  • Chronic immunosuppressive drugs such as corticosteroids.
  • Intense licking: Dogs will lick excessively where it itches, making the area wet and more prone to fungal infection, because yeast thrives in warm and moist environments. The infection contributes to more itching, and thus a vicious circle occurs.
  • Dogs who are fond of swimming; especially those with a lot of fur that stays wet for a long time. 
  • Certain breeds are more susceptible to yeast infections, especially dogs with droopy ears and dogs with many skin folds; bulldogs, schnauzers, cocker spaniels, west highland white terriers, dachshunds, bassets, Maltese and poodles.
  • The skin’s pH value can play a role. Often dogs can have a higher skin pH value, which fungi and bacteria like.
Fungal infections in dogs

Symptoms of Candida and Malassezia

In order to determine if your dog has a fungal infection the vet will have to take skin samples/scarpings, blood tests or a urine sample. Flea allergy/skin parasites are also a common cause of itchy skin, so it is often checked first.


A fungal infection will usually occur locally on the body, but can spread over time and develop into a chronic condition. Symptoms include: 

  • Greasy fur and skin as well as an unpleasant yeasty body odour.
  • Red, irritated and raised skin.
  • Brown-red discolouration on the fur.
  • The skin can thicken.
  • Affected areas of skin may become darker (hyperpigmentation).
  • Hair loss and dandruff.
  • Sores and blisters.


When your dog licks its paws over a period of time, they can become quite wet and raw. This provides a breeding ground for fungus. You will notice the fur on the paws developing a reddish-brown colour.


  • Excessive itching.
  • Red, inflamed, swollen.
  • Marked overproduction of earwax; typically a brown-black coating (looks like coffee grounds), often with an unpleasant smell. Can also be a bit sticky.
  • Shaking of the head.
  • Smelly ears.
  • Rubs head against the floor or along the furniture.
Fungal infections in dogs


Local infection is treated with antifungal agents in the form of shampoo, ear drops, ointments, etc. A chronic infection will often be treated with oral or systemic anti-fungal medications.

Keep a diary where you write down the symptoms when they started, what makes them better/worse etc. If the symptoms do not improve after fungal treatment, a diary may make it easier for the vet to find the cause of the licking and itching.

Home remedies

A healthy skin microbiome is important in the skin’s resilience to fungal infections. While the pH of our skin is more acidic, the pH of dog skin edges slightly closer to the alkaline end.

Diluted vinegar wash: Use a clean cloth and wash your dog’s fur with a mixture of one part apple cider vinegar to four parts water. This contributes to a lower pH value on the skin. NB! Do not use if the skin has cracks or open wounds because it stings intensely.

Salt water wash: Boil 1 litre of water with 3 tablespoons of sea salt. Let it simmer for about 10 minutes with the lid on. Cool the salt water mixture and wash your dog with it. Repeat several times during the day.


An important part of prevention is to develop a good routine where you check the dog’s health by going through various checks. Then you will quickly notice any changes. Read more about this in our blog.

  • Well-balanced, complete, high-quality food.
  • Supplementation with essential fatty acids, vitamin C, zink.
  • Establish a good grooming routine.
  • Keep ears, fur and paws clean and dry.
  • Use products that protect your dog from fleas and other external parasites*
  • Visit your vet regularly to keep the situation under control. It is often a good idea to take pictures of the skin to keep track.
  • Paws; cut away excess hair on the paws and between the balls of the toes, trim nails and make sure the paws are clean and dry.
  • Use a natural, mild shampoo that takes care of the skin’s microflora and pH value.  We should not use human shampoo, baby shampoo or dish detergent.

* There are several natural sprays and remedies on the market and we have had a good experience with Pannatural Pets and their products.