Malassezia in Dogs

Malassezia Dermatitis is one of the two most common skin conditions in dogs.

What Is Malassezia?

Malassezia is a type of yeast (fungus) found on the skin of most dogs. Its presence is not a problem, except when Malassezia grows at an abnormal number and can cause an infection. While dogs of all ages and breeds suffer with this, some breeds are more susceptible than others. The Maltese, German Shepherd, Chihuahuas and West Highland White Terriers are all such breeds.

Symptoms of Malassezia Dermatitis

Malassezia Dermatitis is almost always present in the form of dry, perhaps scaly, and itchy skin. Because of this, dogs scratch and further irritate their skin. Infections show up primarily in the ear canals, muzzles, rectums or toes or bellies. Symptoms of Malassezia Dermatitis can include:

  •  Skin redness
  •  Darkening of skin (hyperpigmentation)
  •  Oily skin accompanied by a greasy smell
  •  Self-inflicted wounds from scratching and/or biting
  •  Thickening of skin

Malassezia Dermatitis can display similar symptoms to a Staph infection, however treatment for the two is very similar.

Diagnosis of Malassezia Dermatitis

There are a number of tests a veterinarian can perform. Most commonly this involves taking a skin scraping and studying a sample of the fungus under a microscope to see if the Malassezia is present. But since a certain amount of Malassezia is present even in the healthiest of dogs, it is often difficult to diagnose until you see how they respond to the treatment.

Treatment of Malassezia Dermatitis

Depending on the severity and location of the infection, treatment is administered in a variety of ways.

For ear infections, it's recommended that the ears be cleaned once or twice a day with an ear cleaner designed to inhibit the growth of Malassezia and other yeasts. After cleansing and drying, topical ointments can be applied.

For infections on larger areas of your pet's body, it might be wise to locate a topical shampoo containing miconazole, ketoconazole, tea tree or benzoyl peroxide for a period of time determined by your veterinarian (often several weeks). Buying a shampoo for dogs is recommended. Twice a week shampoos might be recommended, letting the shampoo lather sit for 10 to 20 minutes before rinsing.

If your dog has a more severe case, your vet might recommend an oral medication in addition to the baths. However, since these oral medications can be costly, often the topical treatments will be attempted on their own first to determine if a noticeable improvement can be seen.

How Long Before My Dog Is Better?

Most treatments should have a turn-around time of 1 to 2 weeks. This does not mean you should stop treatment. Continue for 3 to 5 weeks, or as recommended by your veterinarian. Keep in mind that most yeast infections have an underlying cause, and without determining and treating this cause, your dog may have reoccurring Malassezia infections.