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What are Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus?

The MRSA infection can be transferred to humans from their dogs by direct contact with the infection or by touching contaminated items such as bedding or food and water bowls. Many times the bacteria that cause MRSA will be carried around the nose and mouth and the anus. Practice good hygiene and thoroughly wash your hands after touching your dog’s mouth or their personal items and after cleaning up their feces.

All dogs can contract MRSA but there are some that will be at a higher risk. Very young and very old dogs have weaker immune systems and are therefore more susceptible to contracting MRSA. Dogs that already have a compromised immune system such as those with injuries or other illnesses are also susceptible to MRSA. Therapy dogs that visit hospitals and nursing homes are at a higher risk of being exposed to MRSA as are dogs that have owners who work in hospitals and nursing homes.

Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus or MRSA is a zoonotic disease. This means that the disease can be passed from species to species, including from dogs to humans and vice versa. MRSA is difficult to treat and precautions must be made when you are treating a dog diagnosed with MRSA. Some dogs will not show symptoms of having MRSA but they can still spread the bacteria. These dogs are carriers and are called colonized with MRSA.

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Symptoms of Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus in Dogs

Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus in dogs will commonly affect the skin and other soft tissues which can result in abscesses or skin infections. It will rarely affect the joints, eyes, ears or urinary tract of your dog. Be sure to carefully monitor any wounds that your dog has and if you notice any of these symptoms, have your veterinarian examine your dog.

  • Pus or other discharge from a wound
  • Skin lesions
  • Swelling of the skin
  • Abscess 
  • Fever
  • Wounds that are slow to heal or do not heal

Causes of Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus in Dogs

Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus is a bacterial infection that is zoonotic and can pass from an infected dog to a human either by direct contact or contaminated bedding and food or water dishes. 

Dogs can be colonized, or carriers, of MRSA but never show any symptoms. Colonized dogs can still spread the infection to other dogs and to humans. The MRSA bacteria will usually be present around the nose and mouth or around the anus of a colonized dog. 

Exposure to MRSA occurs most frequently from exposure to humans who have the infection. Therapy dogs are generally at the highest risk of developing MRSA because they are frequently brought into hospitals and nursing homes where MRSA can be prevalent.

Diagnosis of Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus in Dogs

When your veterinarian suspects Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus in your dog, they will take precautions to prevent the bacteria from spreading to their staff or to the other dogs at the veterinary clinic.

MRSA infections are diagnosed by collecting a sample from the lesions that are present and performing a bacterial culture and antimicrobial susceptibility testing. The samples that your veterinarian collects will be sent to a veterinary reference laboratory for testing, therefore, it can take a few days for the test results to come back to your veterinarian.

Treatment of Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus in Dogs

Your veterinarian will discuss treatment options with you once the lab results come back positive for Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus. The main thing to remember as a pet owner is that MRSA is zoonotic and precautions must be taken to keep you and your family from contracting the infection.

Dogs that are colonized, or carriers of MRSA, but do not show any clinical symptoms do not generally require medications. The bacteria will clear out usually within a few weeks. Practice good hygiene after touching your dog and do not allow them to sniff or lick other dogs or people. Keep them isolated if possible to avoid potential contamination. You will need to have your dog retested for MRSA every two weeks until the tests come back as negative.

Dogs that have open lesions will require aggressive antibiotics such as Chloramphenicol, Aminoglycosides or Clindamycisn to clear the MRSA infection. Be sure to follow dosing instructions carefully and finish all medications unless otherwise directed by your veterinarian. Treatment of the wounds may include lancing and draining abscesses and daily cleaning of the wounds.

Recovery of Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus in Dogs

Most dogs that are diagnosed with MRSA will recover from the infection with strong antibiotics if the infection is detected quickly. Waiting to treat or not treating MRSA can be fatal to your dog.

When you are treating your dog for MRSA or you have a colonized dog, be sure to practice good hygiene and keep your dog isolated. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water after touching your dog or cleaning up their feces. If possible, wear gloves when touching the infected areas on your dog and wash hands afterward. All bandages must be immediately discarded.