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The bacteria associated with flesh eating disease (necrotizing fasciitis) literally destroy everything in their path. This includes skin, tissue, fat, and even blood vessels.
The good news for Fido is that this disease is still very rare in canines. The bad news is that it can be debilitating, cause systemic illnesses, and even if your vet does try and treat it, a successful outcome is not guaranteed. The problem is that just like in humans, this condition advances rapidly, is difficult to diagnose, and often leads to death.
In humans, flesh-eating bacteria can lead to increasing pain in cuts, abrasions, or any other opening in the skin. In time, the area around the wound will become red and warm to the touch. Humans may also experience nausea, diarrhea, fever, weakness, dizziness, and general lethargy.
If you believe your dog has a case of flesh eating bacteria, your first step should be to contact your vet to have your dog properly examined and diagnosed. Be sure not to touch any of the affected areas, (medical gloves are highly recommended) and you should also thoroughly wash your dog's bedding and anything else they lay on.
Can Dogs Get Flesh Eating Bacteria?
Your dog can be affected by flesh eating bacteria, but the number of reported cases is so small that many pet owners believe dogs are immune to this disease. Because dogs and humans share so much from an anatomical standpoint, it only stands to reason that dogs are susceptible to this tragic condition.
Does My Dog Have Flesh Eating Bacteria?
There are many signs that your dog might, in fact, have necrotizing fasciitis. The areas of the body that are most likely to be affected are the flanks, hock joints, and the skin on the abdomen. One thing for certain is that your dog will be in a lot of pain. Other symptoms include:
An infection that starts out with a small lesion on the skin that quickly becomes a larger area of necrosis, often within just a few hours.
Because flesh eating bacteria cause massive infection, your dog will have a fever.
There will be localized swelling of the area around the lesion and typically within 24 to 48 hours the affected skin will shred and slough off.
There are several known causes of the infection that leads to the growth of flesh eating bacteria. These include but are not limited to:
Sharing food and water bowls
Sharing an outside dog run
Sharing a bed
All of these involve sharing with a dog that is already infected. Your dog can also get this disease by licking the face of a human that is carrying the disease, and if they share a crowded space such as a kennel with other dogs who are carrying the disease.
If you want your companion to have any chance of surviving the flesh-eating disease, it must be diagnosed as quickly as possible so that treatment can be started. The problem is that since the symptoms of this disease are very similar to those found in several others, it can often be missed.
In order for a proper diagnosis to be made, your veterinarian must run a bacterial culture and perform a histopathological examination. However, even if you no more than suspect your dog has this disease, treatment should be started without waiting for the culture to mature. Otherwise, if your dog truly has the flesh eating disease, they may die before the treatment has time to work. If you would like to learn more about flesh-eating disease in dogs read our condition guide to Necrotizing Fasciitis.
How Do I Treat My Dog's Flesh Eating Disease?
The most important part of treating your dog for flesh-eating disease is that veterinary care needs to be started as soon as possible and that the condition requires an aggressive form of treatment. Your vet should start out by giving your dog an intravenous antibiotic such as amoxicillin-clavulanate or clindamycin. After the results of the culture are back and confirmed positive, the vet may try a different antibiotic. Other forms of treatment may include:
Amputation of the affected area, if it is a limb
Intravascular fluid therapy
Removing any dead or infected tissue surgically
Your dog is likely to need to make several return visits to the vet for long-term treatments and therapies. Recovery itself is going to take a long time and a lot of hard work on your behalf. You will need to keep your pooch's wounds clean and bandages changed on a regular basis. Your dog will be on antibiotics for quite a while and may need skin grafts to repair the damaged areas of skin and tissue.
How Is Flesh Eating Bacteria Similar in Dogs and Humans?
Flesh eating disease in dogs and humans display very similar symptoms, including:
Painful swelling of the affected areas
High rate of infection
How is Flesh Eating Bacteria Different in Dogs and Humans?
There are very few differences in the symptoms and treatment of flesh-eating bacteria in humans and dogs.
In dogs affected areas such as abdomen, chest, head, and neck can be very difficult to debride (cleaning the wound and removing all the dead flesh).
Surgical treatment may not be able to save a dog's life.
Dogs have a much lower risk/incidence of flesh-eating disease in comparison to humans.
A dog was admitted to the Ontario Veterinary College intensive care unit for evaluation of a lesion that was red and swollen on her left side. The dog had previously been treated for insulinoma and intracranial meningioma using high dosages of dexamethasone for a week. The dog seemed to be depressed, lethargic. and had a fever. She was treated with IV fluids, antimicrobials, and analgesics.
Over the course of the next few hours, her condition continued to worsen as the disease was too far advanced to respond to treatment. The center of the lesion on her abdomen changed colors from red to purple, and finally to black. All symptoms indicated she was suffering from flesh-eating disease and was euthanized 15 hours after being admitted.
If you see any suspicious lesions on your dog, be sure to take them to the vet immediately or if the vet is not in, to a veterinary hospital with an emergency room.