Your Pet Might Give You MRSA

August 11, 2008

The recently discovered transmission of MRSA bacteria from humans to pets, and pets to humans is cause for great concern.  Pets can harbor the bacteria and cause multiple re-infections of MRSA to the humans they come in contact with.  Because they (pets or people) have living bacteria which can be passed, they are called carriers.

This situation is going to be problematic because of numerous difficulties in identifying pet carriers, in eradicating the MRSA, and also in the management of veterinary practices, groomers, kennels, and even pet stores.

To make matters even worse, farm animals are also being identified as carriers of MRSA as well as having infections.

The concerns regarding MRSA and pets is made worse by the ‘Myth,’ or ‘Urban Legend,’ that dogs mouths are cleaner than humans.  They aren’t, especially after what they just ate out in the yard.  The myth that they only contain different types of bacteria that can not make humans sick is also incorrect.  They do tend to have some species of bacteria that are rare in humans, but they not only can be carriers of bacteria that are dangerous to humans, they can pass some bacteria that are normally rare in humans to us.

Pet Infections and Pet Carriers of Staphylococcus or MRSA

It is only within the past few years that it has become apparent that not only Staphylococcus aureus, but also MRSA, may be transmitted by humans to their pets, but also pets may transfer MRSA to people.

In 1994 in the U.S. a dog with MRSA inside the nose (nares) was found to the cause of recurring infections in both the husband and wife.  The re-infections ended after the dog was disinfected.  This is the first case of dog to human transmission that was documented.  A growing number of similar cases are occurring each year recently.

The first demonstrated human to dog transmission of MRSA occurred in a case in the Netherlands reported in 2004.  It also showed that the nurse who had been decontaminated and was free of MRSA was re-infected by her dog.  The dog had clearly obtained the MRSA bacteria from her during an outbreak at the nursing home where the nurse worked, and had maintained the bacteria within the nares.

An earlier case where multiple infections of people from horses was also a likely case of human to pet transmission, but the source of the infection was not discovered.

Animals have also been found to have infections caused by MRSA.  Since 1999 a number of dogs have been found to carry or have active infections by resistant strains of Staph. aureus.  The earliest report in 1994 showed that family members and their pet dog shared the same resistant bacteria.

How to Avoid Getting Staphylococcus From Your Pet

The answer here is pretty clear, we do not really know much about the incidence of Staphylococcus in pets and especially MRSA, and we do not have any research to help us avoid infections or re-infections from pets.

Some of the basic suggestions for avoiding an infection from your pet may not be what you would like to hear.  Don’t let your pet lick you.  Don’t let them sleep in bed with you.  Don’t let them sit on furniture that you will use…  Obviously these suggestions do not fit in with the way most of us live with our pets.  But we should be aware of them.

The simplest answer to this dilemma is not the easiest.  If you have been infected with MRSA more than once you need to have your family checked and treated, you need to have your house and workplace decontaminated, and you need to have your pets checked and treated if they are carriers.  If all of these steps are not completed, it is easy for you, other family members, or the pet to become re-infected and continue as a carrier.

Hopefully the near future will find new products that can help eliminate the bacteria from the nares of pets and other products that can decontaminate the skin and fur.  These could be given after contact with infected people or pets, or simply after contact with a large number of living organisms.

How to Avoid Giving Staphylococcus to Your Pet

Again, there is very little research to make recommendations.  The best suggestions involve the simple care that should be routinely taken to avoid transmitting (or obtaining) Staph infections.

First, if you are infected make sure you wash carefully before playing with your pet.  Don’t let the pet lick your body, especially not in unwashed areas.  Make sure your pets avoid any furniture or other materials/objects that you may have infected.

It is also important to keep your pet in the best of health.  Feed them healthy food, do not allow them to become overweight, do not feed them table scraps (especially those that have been in your mouth), exercise them well, and make sure they obtain good veterinary care.

How to Treat Pets with Staphylococcus

For pets that have been tested and have MRSA infections, whether in skin infections or as nasal carriers, it is important to provide antibiotic therapy to kill the bacteria.  Using a two drug approach, where the bacteria has been shown to be sensitive to both, may help assure successful treatment.

Some authors have suggested that it is impractical to treat dogs (or other animals) with topical antimicrobial drugs.  This is an example of a needed product for antisepsis of the skin and fur of dogs.  If a suitable agent is found, it would have wide application and benefit.  Similarly, a drug that could be administered into the nose to eliminate MRSA would be highly beneficial to both pets and humans.

Developments in Veterinary Care

Based on both the research literature, concerned people, and logical extension of what is known, we make the following recommendations:

  1. Veterinarians and professional organizations need to develop clinical protocols regarding diagnosis, detection, treatment, and prevention of MRSA infections and carrier states.
  2. Veterinarians/professional organizations need to develop pet owner-friendly guidelines for caring for their pets regarding MRSA and Staph.
  3. Researchers need to develop topical antiseptic agents to decontaminate MRSA from the skin and fur of animals.
  4. Researchers need to develop nasal treatments to decontaminate MRSA from the nares of pets.
  5. Quick tests being developed for detecting MRSA in humans need to be adapted to testing in pets.
  6. Dogs (and other pets) used in pet therapy programs (nursing homes, children’s hospitals, etc) need to receive frequent testing and treatment to prevent transfer of MRSA to vulnerable human populations.
  7. Researchers need to develop bedding materials, shampoos, and other pet products which can discourage growth of Staphylococcus strains, and possibly encourage the growth of safe bacteria (normal flora) on skin and in nose.

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