You may have heard of staph infections before. They are quite common in humans. However, did you know that staph infections can also occur in dogs?
Thankfully, there are multiple treatment options that can help your dog and keep him comfortable, so that in most cases, the condition need not be too big of a worry.
Most of the bacteria that are part of the Staphylococcus genus are harmless, and live its lifespan without ever causing any trouble for your dog.
However, some strains can cause a bit of a ruckus. S. Pseudintermedius can occupy your dog without any symptoms, but if your dog’s immune system weakens for whatever reason, staph is an opportunistic bacterium and will take the opportunity to proliferate. This will result in an infection that will require treatment.
Sometimes a staph infection may be resistant to treatment. This is often labeled MRSP, and though it isn’t any more dangerous than a typical staph infection, it can take much longer to recover from.
A staph infection should be addressed as soon as you suspect a problem, to give your pet the best chance of recovery. Staph infections can spread to internal organs if left unchecked, and cause serious damage and even death if not properly treated. So, though a staph infection isn’t cause for major concern right away, don’t ever take the condition lightly. It can wreak some serious havoc if it’s not addressed and treated appropriately.
Staph Infections in Dogs – Why Do They Get It?
Bacteria is always alive and well both inside and on the surface of your dog’s body. It’s the same with humans.
However, these bacteria are so microscopic, they cannot be seen. And at least some bacteria are healthy for humans and dogs.
The most common strain of staph bacteria that is seen with dogs is called staphylococcal dermatitis. This is a topical skin infection found in dogs, where your dog’s skin may appear red and inflamed, and even feel a bit warm to the touch. The irritation could be due to some kind of injury, or just be from a reaction to something in your dog’s environment.
When your dog’s skin is healthy, this strain of bacteria is harmless and remains pretty dormant. It’s only with the irritation and injury that this bacterium gets stirred up. When that happens, infection results.
Another reason bacterial infections can occur is because your dog is suffering from some other underlying allergy, or illness. The health of your dog’s immune system plays a big role in whether a staph infection can take hold.
Types of Staph Infections Found in Dogs
There are three different types of staph infection that can occur in dogs.
A staph infection of the skin, resulting in conditions like dermatitis and pyoderma.
Infections like these are often triggered by some type of allergic reaction in dogs, such as allergies to pollen, or fertilizers, or some other irritant that triggers a reaction, causing your dog to scratch excessively.
When your dog scratches a lot, he creates openings in the surface of the skin that allows bacteria to get down into the pores, entering through cuts and open sores. Staph can also infect the ears. Sometimes your dog can even be allergic to the staph bacteria itself!
A staph infection of the fascia which can cause necrotizing fasciitis.
This type of staph infection is quite rare, but it can come on suddenly and spread quickly, which makes it a very serious illness indeed. This infection can cause systemic illness, and because it is spread so rapidly and it’s so hard to diagnose, it can be fatal.
This infection is sometimes called the “flesh eating bacteria,” and affects everything from the skin right down to the fat and muscle, including fascia which is what connects muscle and bones together.
This type of staph infection is also extremely painful, even when it doesn’t appear to look that bad. So, if your dog is in pain, but you can’t see anything that looks too serious, see your vet right away for further testing.
A staph infection of the organs which can cause cystitis, encephalitis, osteomyelitis, discospondylitis, and metritis.
This means that dogs can get a staph infection in their upper respiratory tract. Other times, dogs can develop staph infections within the brain and spinal cord, along the lining of their heart, throughout their reproductive organs, as well as inside their kidneys and their urinary system.
When a staph infection occurs, it means it’s probably drug-resistant and it may be labeled as MRSP and require a more aggressive and multi-faceted treatment plan.
Depending on where the infection manifests, a long-term infection can turn out to be a serious health concern for your dog, causing damage and taking a much longer time to recover from.
If you suspect your dog may be developing a staph infection, you need to make a point to see your vet immediately, and get your dog the proper treatment.
What Causes Staph Infection in Dogs?
There are several potential causes of staph infection in dogs, but some of the most prevalent seem to be contaminated materials with bacteria that invade the body through the mouth, nose, or eyes.
Sometimes ingesting contaminated materials can cause a staph infection as well. Medical equipment that has not been sterilized properly, as well as infected scrapes, cuts, and wounds can transmit the staph bacteria.
Most often your dog is the cause. For whatever reason, he may chew, scratch, or excessively lick a certain area on his body. When this happens, the skin may break and become irritated.
As discussed earlier in this article, broken skin and irritations can lead to staph infections. This cause is very common with dogs that suffer from allergies to foods, allergies from environmental irritants or medications, and in dogs with a flea problem or an allergy to fleas (or more specifically, an allergy to flea saliva.)
Dogs can also develop secondary infections to the staph infection, compromising their immune system further. This is why staph infections often appear to be more prevalent in older dogs, because their immune systems tend to be weaker. However, staph infections can also occur in younger dogs, and there are no breeds that appear to be more or less susceptible than another.
Signs & Symptoms of Canine Staph Infection
You will often notice skin lesions in dogs that are suffering from a staph infection. Some of the lesions may look circular and red, with crusting around the edges and a loss of hair in the middle.
Other lesions may simply appear as a red area with little pustules that look like pimples. Unfortunately, lesions can sometimes be hard to spot because of your dog’s fur, and you may not notice it until the infection has advanced somewhat, and his hair starts to fall out.
Other symptoms to look out for are:
- Severe pain at the site of the wound
- Pus in and around the wound area
- Crusting and scaling that appears abnormal
- Off behavior that you know is not typical of your dog
Additionally, loss of appetite and itching could also be signs of a staph infection.
Is Staph Contagious?
Fortunately, a staph infection itself is not contagious. However, the staph bacteria can be spread from dog to dog, as well as from humans to dogs. Though it’s not impossible, staph doesn’t typically spread from pets to people.
Even so, it is best to be careful anyway. Humans with very low immune systems can be at risk to develop infections, so you don’t want to invite trouble.
Good hygiene can help minimize risks of infection and the staph bacteria spreading. Things like washing your hands thoroughly, especially if you have touched an area that’s infected, is very important.
It is wise to keep your dog quarantined and away from other dogs, especially if those dogs have any skin infections or wounds that could be inviting to the staph bacteria.
Another preventative measure to help mitigate passing the staph virus around is to wear rubber gloves when cleaning or treating a wound or infected area on your dog.
Diagnosing Staph Infections in Dogs
If you have noticed any of the signs and symptoms of a staph infection and you suspect that your dog may be ill, you should take him to the vet immediately.
This is especially true if he has a fever or behaves as though he is confused or weak. Unfortunately, once a dog has developed a wound with a staph infection, it cannot always heal itself.
Your vet will usually perform a thorough physical exam, as well as take down a detailed history and inquire about their current symptoms. Your vet may order a urinalysis and complete blood count, as well as a biochemistry profile.
Other diagnostic measures will include testing your dog’s skin to see if there are any immune-related causes, allergies, or abnormal cell growth that is causing an infection.
Sometimes your vet may decide a skin biopsy or skin swab is in order, so they can determine the best antibiotic treatment for your dog.
Almost always, skin infections will be given an antibiotic ointment, sometimes combined with an oral antibiotic. If the infection is not on the skin but instead infecting a major internal organ, other testing measures may be used.
For instance, a vet may ask for x-rays, blood cultures, or a spinal tap if a staph infection of the spinal column is suspected. One of the rarest forms of staph infections is necrotizing fasciitis, which affects the fascia tissue connecting and holding organs and muscles in their place. This type of staph infection can progress rapidly and may result in amputating limbs that are affected. Sadly, this type of infection often ends in death.
Treatment Options for Staph in Dogs
Antibiotics are always the go-to treatments for staph infections, regardless of the cause or source. If it is a skin infection, antibiotic skin creams are used, as well as an oral antibiotic to keep the spread of the disease under control.
Antibiotics applied to the skin need to be applied consistently until the wound is healed, and any oral antibiotics need to be finished as well, or you put your dog at risk of becoming reinfected.
Dogs with an internal staph infection will also use antibiotics, but depending on the specifics and your dog’s particular case, other medical measures may be used in conjunction with the antibiotics. For instance, surgical interventions, the use of stents for fluid drainage, and/or removal of tissue afflicted with necrosis.
Sometimes antibacterial shampoos may be used as well. They certainly can’t hurt. It’s also vital that you make sure you’re treating the underlying cause of the staph infection, or you risk it returning.
Sometimes your pet may suffer something called Staphylococcus hypersensitivity or allergy. This is when the staph infection keeps returning even after treatment (yet it’s not due to an underlying health issue), and requires long-term care.
Your vet may prescribe a round of staph bacteria injections to desensitize your pet and his immune system to the bacteria. Dogs that suffer from this condition may also require long-term antibiotics, and sometimes medicated shampoos can be useful.
What is the Prognosis for Staph Infection in Dogs?
If your dog suffers from a skin staph infection, you must make sure he is kept clean and that you use all medications as directed. When you do so, your dog should be healed within weeks, sometimes even days. If your dog requires it, at times multiple antibiotics may be used.
When it comes to an internal staph infection, while the antibiotics can kill the infection, it can’t stop or repair the damage to your dog’s internal organs. So the earlier an internal staph infection is caught the better.
Owners who follow their vet’s instructions and administer their dog’s medications properly will find that their dog’s chances of recovery are significantly increased, in most cases.