If you have a pet that has exhibited signs of itchy skin, gunky ears, dark discoloured skin (sometimes with hair loss), or ‘allergy’ like symptoms, your vet or local pet food store team may have said, “you could be dealing with a case of yeast”. But what is yeast? And why does it cause so many issues for our pets?
What Yeast Is.
Yeast is a fungus that lives in your dog’s intestines. It’s a normal part of the gut microbiome. However, when yeast grows out of control and the good bacteria in the gut can’t keep it in check any longer, you get a fungal infection that often leads to really uncomfortable symptoms.
Dogs with out of control yeast can exhibit things such as itching, excessive licking, scaly skin, elephant type skin patches, hyperpigmentation of the skin (it gets dark or black coloured in spots), ear infections, a musty or stinky smell, hair loss along the back or tail, and a greasy or chalky feeling coat.
Yeast overgrowth creates an environment that good bacteria can’t compete in. When the good bacteria are outnumbered and can no longer keep the yeast numbers in check, you get inflammation between the cells in the gut. Those cells are normally tight together, but inflammation like this can cause the space between those cells to resemble something more like a cheese cloth - with space between the cells. As the space between the cells widens, it allows toxic byproduct to leak out into the bloodstream. This is what we call leaky gut.
When yeast is kept in control with good gut bacteria it remains as a single celled organism. When yeast doesn’t have enough competition and goes into overgrowth it changes into a multicellular fungus, and this is when we start to see issues because super yeast can release a lot of toxins.
So how do you stop super yeast?
Step 1: Don’t feed the yeast beast.
The first step in controlling super yeast, is to help starve it off. Yeast loves sugar. Removing carbs and sugars will stop feeding that yeast. Examples of carbs that feed yeast are corn, wheat, oats, potatoes and sweet potatoes, rice, peas and chickpeas. Wild dogs average about 4% starch in their diet. Kibble is on average 48% or higher in starch and this includes grain free kibbles! So step one is to use a fresh food diet with low carbs and sugars. Raw foods are best for this.
Another thing that contributes to overgrowth of yeast is heavy metals. Pets (and people) are exposed to heavy metals through vaccinations, pesticides, fish, processed pet foods like kibble, low quality water and more. Yeast has an affinity for heavy metals, which you may think is good in a way - they bind to those metals before they enter the body, but the metals that bind to the yeast in the intestines kill off the good bacteria, which allows the yeast to grow out of control. The best ways to avoid metals for your pets are to avoid any unnecessary vaccinations, use well water, or spring water (don’t use water with fluoride), avoid fish that are high in metals, and feed organic food wherever possible (organic crops don’t use glyphosate, which is full of heavy metals).
Step 2: Support the body during the yeast die off.
When you start to kill off the yeast, it must be done in a controlled manner. As yeast dies off, it releases heavy metals back into the body. If those toxins are allowed to linger in the body a whole new set of symptoms will emerge, often referred to as detox symptoms or a healing crisis. It doesn't have to be this way.
You want to avoid having any suffering during the yeast die off period; adding other supports that will bind to those heavy metals and flush them from the body are a very important addition to your yeast elimination plan.
Search for ingredients such as humic and fulvic acids, often found in high quality probiotics, and digestive enzymes. These combinations are great as they support the body on many levels as you work towards balancing the gut.
Digestive enzymes in particular play an important role.
Yeast has an outer shell called a biofilm. Breaking down the biofilm enables us to kill off the yeast easier. And the best way to dissolve biofilm? You guessed it, digestive enzymes. Some yeast can become resistant to anti-fungal meds but so far, none have become resistant to enzymes.
In order to get the best results zapping that biofilm, we want to give enzymes prior to a meal, not with the meal. This is different than how we would recommend using enzymes for general digestive help in breaking down food. In this case we want those enzymes to start digesting the yeast instead of our pet’s meal. So be sure to use them before feeding meals.
Digestive enzymes can help reduce symptoms of yeast die off. You can increase your digestive enzymes and decrease your anti-fungal options if your pet starts to show symptoms that are getting worse during the healing time.
Step 3: Kill that excess super yeast.
So we’ve stopped feeding starchy carb rich foods, added in a way to strip the biofilm off the outer wall of the yeast, and we are supporting the body while it’s killing the yeast. The next step is now we want to use anti-fungal foods and supplements that will actually kill that yeast and flush it out and there are plenty of choices!
At Pet Grocer™ we typically recommend ones that are already formulated and take the guesswork out of dosing. We like one by Adored Beast and Four Leaf Rover. These kits that have both anti-fungals and a body support system all in one kit. We also carry our own in house, human grade organic olive leaf powder for mild cases that are caught early enough for intervention. This pairs well with a digestive supplement (fed prior to meals remember).
Caprylic acid is helpful in killing off one type of yeast, and is easily found nowadays in MCT oil. Please use MCT oil from coconuts as palm is not harvested in a safe way for our planet. It can cause diarrhea, so you need to start slowly and build your way up.
Pau d’arco is often used in most formulations - it’s a great powerhouse, but is not suitable for pregnant dogs. And another yeast killer is goldenseal. The easiest way to safely use these is with a pre-made version by a reputable company.
Step 4: And Last but Not Least…
The final step now is to keep the gut strong and build up the good bacteria in there. Once the yeast is dying off and being flushed out safely, we need to ensure it doesn’t build up to super yeast amounts again. The goal is to bring back balance in the body.
To help those gut bacteria get back into balance and keep yeast in check, you’ll want to consider a few things.
First - no antibiotic treatments. They they kill all bacteria, the good and bad.
Second - reduce (and if possible eliminate) toxins. This includes vaccines, systemic pesticides like flea, tick and heart worm meds, foods high in glyphosate (nearly all kibbles), exposure to commercial cleaning agents, fabric softeners, scented products in general, and stress. That’s a hard one, but it plays a big part in your dog’s chemical make up.
Third - add in probiotics. You will want a variety of probiotic strains to help repopulate the gut. Using a good pre & probiotic combination will help with this. Look for products that use pre-biotics such as larch, dandelion, or burdock root. Often lower end products will use a sugar based pre-biotic and as we now know - sugar feeds yeast.
Supporting your dog through the itch, while working towards balance
To help with the immediate itch there are many things you can try, and a safe and easy one is to use witch hazel in a spray bottle. For dogs that are really super itchy and can’t sleep at night, sometimes you need to just give them that boost to help find immediate comfort. We recommend our Yeast Shampoo - and only do it once a month. You want to keep the microbiome of the skin healthy and not strip it with frequent baths. However, we know how hard it is for everyone to lose sleep at night with an itchy dog. So one good bath with yeast shampoo that is all natural, will help to get over that hump while you are working on healing from the inside out with the body. Adored Beast also has a homeopathic topical product, Yeasty Beast III, which is specifically formulated for reducing yeast based skin irritation & discomfort. Another popular choice is Leucillin, which is a safe antiseptic choice and works well for some pets.