petplan pet insurance presents a primer on MRSA – part 1

Posted by Dr. Rebecca Jackson on Aug 01 2013

For this week’s blog, I have been asked to discuss a topic that is critically important to the health of the entire family. We are going to be discussing the subject of MRSA: methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

This is a very important topic, and this blog is my no means all inclusive. I do hope to give you an idea of what MRSA is, why it is important to understand the basics, and what we can do as pet parents to keep our households healthy!

what it is

For starters, MRSA is a term used to describe more than one type of antibiotic resistant bacteria. In other words, Staph aureus is not the only bacterium that is a culprit, but we tend to label the condition MRSA nonetheless. What it boils down to is an infection resulting from types of bacteria that are resistant to certain antibiotics. This is important for both humans and animals because these bacteria are NOT host-specific (i.e. they can infect humans and animals alike).

who is at risk

Many people and some animals can be carriers of these bacteria. This means they have the bacteria but it isn’t causing them any harm or disease. In fact, many of our pets that end up with MRSA infections were likely infected from contact with humans.

In general, healthy humans and animals don’t need to worry too much about these types of bacteria. If we come into contact with the bacteria, healthy immune systems can generally take care of the nasty bugs before they become a problem. It is in the immuno-compromised patient (human and/or animal), patients with wounds (surgical or other), or hospitalized patients that these bacteria can become a bigger problem.

signs + symptoms

So, what does infection with MRSA look like? Dogs and cats who are suffering from a MRSA infection may have any of the following:

  • fever
  • a wound that does not heal
  • abnormal discharge from a wound or surgical site
  • swelling of the skin
  • abscesses of the skin and/or soft tissues
  • less commonly, pets may experience these infections in their ears, eyes, joints and/or urinary tract

Unfortunately, MRSA is becoming a bigger problem in human and veterinary medicine alike. The long term use and inappropriate use of certain antibiotics has contributed to the severity of MRSA infections. The ability of the bacteria to infect multiple species that co-exist (pet parents and their furry family members are just one example) makes it difficult to treat and minimize the spread of these bacteria. Plus the fact that animals and humans may be carrying the bacteria and not even know it! As you can see, this is a very complicated and important issue in healthcare across the board.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about diagnosing and treating MRSA. Stay tuned…

To more waggin’ and purrin’. rkwj.