Just like humans, dogs are susceptible to infections caused by harmful bacteria. Millions of bacteria exist in and on your dog’s body, but an overgrowth of one type in particular could lead to health problems. In many cases, these infections can be treated easily with a combination of your pet’s immune system and an antibiotic medication—but not always.
Unfortunately, some strains of bacteria have evolved to resist the most common antibiotics available to us. These bacteria are quite dangerous, since they are much more difficult to treat and can cause severe symptoms over time. Even worse, two of the most common types of these bacteria—methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus pseudintermedius (MRSP) are transmittable between humans and dogs.
What are MRSA and MRSP?
These two bacteria, derived from the Staphylococcus (“Staph”) bacterium, pose threats to both your dog and your family. In addition to being resistant to the antibiotic methicillin, these bacteria are usually resistant to entire drug families. This means that the usual antibiotics a veterinarian might prescribe to treat a skin infection won’t do much or anything at all to solve the problem.
Additionally, MRSA and MRSP are capable of spreading from humans to pets and vice versa through skin-to-skin contact. Many people are aware of MRSA but have only considered it a threat in settings like hospitals and nursing homes. Most aren’t aware that this antibiotic-resistant germ can impact their furry friends, too!
While MRSA is more common in humans, it is not as common in pets. MRSP, on the other hand, is more common in dogs. The former causes rare infections in pets, while the latter causes rare infections in humans. Still, infection risk is possible, so it’s important to stay informed.
How dogs contract MRSA and MRSP
Most pets contract MRSA infections after exposure to an infected human. The bacteria can spread through things like licking and kissing. The bacteria might also be picked up in pet healthcare settings, such as veterinary offices and kennels. People who work in healthcare environments—whether for humans or pets—should be cautious about potentially bringing MRSA home.
Fortunately, most pets will only carry the bacteria—it is less common for pets to develop an infection from MRSA than for humans. Of course, pets with compromised immune systems have the greatest chance of developing infections. This means that MRSA can be the most dangerous for very young, very old and chronically ill dogs.
MRSP, on the other hand, is host-specific to pets. This means that your pet likely got it from another pet, a stray outside or a pet healthcare setting like the vet. Pet infection risk is greater with MRSP, while human infection risk is low.
Dogs who carry MSRA or MRSP but don’t become infected are referred to as “colonized,” meaning they carry a colony of this antibiotic-resistant bacteria. These bacteria can still spread to other pets and humans. However, over a few weeks, the bacteria usually goes away, and treatment is often not necessary for colonized dogs.
If your dog does develop an infection, it will most likely affect the skin, ears or soft tissues. These bacteria commonly affect surgical sites or open wounds. Symptoms of infection can include redness and swelling, pustules, hair loss, crusty skin, a bad odor and discharge.
These types of bacterial infections are usually identified as MRSA or MRSP after antibiotics fail to solve the problem. If you take your pup into the vet for an infection, but none of the treatments appear to be working—or if the infection returns quickly—an antibiotic-resistant strain might be to blame. Your vet will need to take a bacterial culture to identify the particular strain and choose the most appropriate treatment method.
Caring for pets with MRSA or MRSP
Pets who develop antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections will need to be treated as soon as possible to avoid complications—especially pets with hampered immune systems. Although MRSA and MRSP infections can usually be treated successfully if they’re identified soon enough, there is danger in waiting it out. If these infections go untreated for too long, bacteria can spread and worsen symptoms, potentially affecting the lungs, joints and blood.
Most MRSA or MRSP infections require specialized antibiotics that the bacteria are not resistant to. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, further treatment might be necessary, including pus drainage, wound cleaning or intensive care.
Extra safety precautions should be taken while you’re caring for your pet with a bacterial infection. Because MRSA and MRSP can pass on to humans, you’ll want to minimize your contact with the bacteria. Always wear gloves when dressing wounds or tending to infections, wash your hands frequently and avoid caring for infected pets yourself if you have a compromised immune system.
Your pet should be isolated as much as possible while they recover. Stay away from other pets outside the household and keep a close eye on any other furry friends inside the home to ensure they have not been affected, too.
With time, veterinary attention and specialized care, your dog should overcome their infection and get back to their usual healthy self!