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Why is My Dog Itching So Much?

While it is not food related, let’s talk about yeast!  No, not candida! Dogs don’t get that. Dogs get the Malassezia strain of yeast. While this strain of yeast is normal on your dog’s skin, the problem occurs when the yeast growth goes into overdrive and ends up in an overgrowth of the yeast. This can be due to immune suppression, ill health, recent vaccinations, old age or young puppies with immature immune systems.


This has been a banner year for itchy dogs and people have been asking me if food and environmental allergies may be the culprit. They have tried using Apoquel and Cytopoint and are still having problems with continual itching and discomfort in their dogs.

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I am addressing this because I have been battling itching in four of my adult Brussels Griffons and two puppies! AND, it took me a few days to catch on to exactly what was going on. The first symptoms I observed were several dogs itching themselves – mostly on their stomach and sides of their bodies, their shoulder area and around their ears. Some were head rubbing on my bed. I finally had the inspiration to check their ears. Two of them had a dark discharge. I then checked their bellies. The adult dogs had various shades of grey or brown spotting on their bellies AND their skin was very pink – especially in the affected and itchy areas. Some of them also appeared to have oily skin and dry coats.


I bathed all them in an herbal shampoo I had, however the itching started up again within a few hours. This dispelled the notion of an environmental allergy. After some research and talking to a veterinarian friend, I was told itching was worse when it was due to yeast – more so than allergies or flea bites. Additionally, I was told the itching could continue for up to a MONTH after I got it under control. A MONTH! Yes, a month!


So, I kicked into high gear and got some anti-fungal shampoo, an anti-fungal spray, and special wipes with ketoconazole and chlorhexidine, which are especially good for the ears! Even after bathing them every other day, using the spray and the wipes, my dogs were still itching! However, it was becoming less often. I washed their bedding and my bedspread daily and I mopped my floors and cleaned their crates with bleach and other disinfectants daily.


The puppies got it because they were nursing off their mother. Their mother got the overgrowth of yeast on her stomach, which is warm and moist and just what yeast LOVES and NEEDS to grow and thrive. The same environment also exists in the ears, around the female vulva, the males’ groin area, the anus, armpits, and in and around any wrinkles the dog might have – especially on the face, neck or back.


Some things that can help include using an athlete’s foot spray on their feet if they are itchy. You can also rinse the dog with a solution of 3/4 water and 1/4 white vinegar. Vinegar can kill yeast on contact, but it only works for the time you use it so it must be repeated.


Understand, not all dogs get this. Dogs with compromised immune systems, certain coat colors (white or red fur), lots of folds in the skin or face, and dogs that are stressed are more likely to have this problem. Yeast is opportunistic and selects the most susceptible dogs. Puppies, seniors, those on immune suppressing drugs or those that were recently vaccinated. Here in Texas, we had 90-degree weather in October and rain every day – a perfect environment for yeast to grow.


I truly believe most of the skin problems we see in our dogs is yeast. The dog may have had a prior issue that caused the itching – whether it was fleas, environmental allergies, or maybe a drug reaction that caused the problem – but even after resolving the cause, the yeast set in and stayed. If the problem gets really bad, the dog can secret an oil that causes a bad odor and seborrhea. This causes the skin to become oily – often causing drops of oil here and there on the skin – and the fur to become dry and stiff in the affected areas. I also believe food allergies are really just yeast on the dog. While both need to be addressed, I suggest working hard on getting rid of the yeast and/or bacteria on the skin.


I am getting a big tired of running the washing machine and mopping every day, but I know the end result is worth it. I suggest no carb treats as sugar helps the yeast grow! Give baths every other day for a week or two, spray them with an anti-fungal spray and treat with the yeast and bacteria killing wipes. Bacteria and yeast tend to ping-pong back and forth, so you need to be aware of both of these issues when the itching occurs.  It takes time, but you will have good results if you’re diligent and do these things. As the puppies grow, they will develop more mature immune systems. AND my puppies had just been vaccinated the week before their outbreak happened, which is not just a coincidence. Vaccinations can suppress a dog’s immune system for up to 3 weeks.


The best way to diagnose yeast is with a skin scraping and culture, which I highly recommend!  I can’t stress this enough! This test is done at your veterinarian’s office and can show both yeast and bacteria. Once a dog itches their skin enough, it can develop sores. When this happens, bacteria can set in quickly.  While antibiotics will be needed to treat bacteria, it is important to remember to give your dog a good probiotic blend, such as the Berte’s Ultra Probiotic Powder. Antibiotics kill both the good and bad bacteria, so the probiotics are beneficial for replenishing the good bacteria and they help fight yeast! Steroids may be suggested by your veterinarian, however, it is important to know that they often make yeast proliferate and grow at an alarming rate. Continue with the probiotics, the ketoconazole and chlorhexidine wipes, baths and cleaning your dog’s bedding. And remember, your dogs may itch for up to a month after the yeast is gone, so continue to treat your dog to help stop the itching and to stop new bacteria from settling on the skin.


So let’s recap!  What should you do?


  • Get a skin scraping and culture at your veterinarian’s office for yeast and bacteria
  • Bathe your dogs 2-3 times a week with an anti-fungal shampoo. Use a white vinegar mix at ¼ vinegar and ¾ water as a good clean rinse!
  • Apply a good anti-fungal spray onto your dog’s skin.
  • Use ketoconazole and chlorhexidine wipes to clean your dog’s ears once or twice daily, and around the belly, vulva, male groin area, anus and feet daily.
  • Wash your dog’s bedding and mop your floors daily
  • And when all seems for naught, carry on! It does take time to combat and finally get rid of topical yeast on dogs.


Your persistence will make your dog grateful and you relieved! Remember what makes yeast grow and get worse – hot weather, long damp rainy weather, turning on the furnace in the fall, a suppressed immune system, vaccinations, or an illness.  All of these provide an opportunity for the yeast fungus to take root!