Staph Infection in Dogs and Cats An Opportunistic Infection With Unpleasant Symptoms

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Staph infections are caused by a Staphylococcus (or โ€œstaphโ€) bacteria. This bacteria is commonly found on the skin of people and animals, but does not cause any problems until the skin is irritated or the immune system is compromised.

The staph bacteria is a robust bacteria; it can live freely in the environment without a host, or it can take up residence on the skin or in the upper respiratory tract of a person or animal. It can also spread easily from person to person, animal to animal, and in some cases, from animal to person. Many people and pets have staph bacteria on the skin, but it lies dormant until conditions are right for multiplication and infection.

Causes of Staph Infection in Dogs and Cats

Staph bacteria is opportunistic. It usually exists peacefully on the skin, but when a pet’s skin is irritated or their immune system is compromised, it creates the perfect conditions for the bacteria to swoop in, multiply, and take over.

Most pets develop staph infections as a result of scratching, licking, or chewing their skin. There are many things that can cause a pet to scratch or lick, including allergies and parasites.

In addition, pets with compromised immune systems caused by disease, infection, allergies, young age, or old age are more susceptible to staph infection.

Symptoms of Staph Infection in Dogs and Cats

One of the primary symptoms of staph infection in dogs and cats is skin lesions. There are two types of lesions that may appear: one is characterized by a red area with pimple-like pustules. The other is also red, but is distinctly circular, with crusting around the circle’s edge and hair loss in the center.

Additional symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Pain
  • Itching
  • Loss of appetite
  • Secondary infections (e.g., of the eyes, ears, or respiratory system)

Note: While staph bacteria can be spread from person to person and animal to animal, a staph infection cannot. A staph infection only occurs when the host’s skin is irritated or the immune system is weakened.

Diagnosing and Treating Staph Infections in Dogs and Cats

Contact your veterinarian if your pet is exhibiting any of the above symptoms. It may be possible to diagnose a staph infection based on symptoms alone, but confirmation can be reached with a skin biopsy or bacteriological cultures. Skin testing can also help to determine the cause of the condition, be it allergies or something else.

Staph infections are generally treated with a course of antibiotics, and antibacterial shampoos and ointments may be helpful in speeding up the recovery process.

It is also important to treat the underlying cause of the staph infection. If the underlying cause is not treated, the staph infection will likely return. In most pets, the cause is itching and scratching as a result of parasites (especially fleas), allergies, or other irritants, and your veterinarian will determine the appropriate course of treatment.

In some cases, the infection may return after treatment is completed. This situation may be the result of an allergy to the staph bacteria, called Staphylococcus hypersensitivity or Staphylococcus allergy. This is a different disease than a staph infection, and is characterized by recurrence. Because of this, treatment for staph hypersensitivity is usually long term and involves routine injections of the staph bacteria as a way to desensitize the pet’s immune system to the bacteria. Many pets respond well to desensitization therapy, but those that do not may require long term treatment with antibiotics as well as medicated baths.


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