- A staph infection is often a skin infection that occurs if staph bacteria overgrows.
- In rare cases, dogs may be infected with antibiotic-resistant staph bacteria or strains that can cause organ failure and shock.
- Signs of a staph infection can include fever, loss of appetite, and pain.
- Staph infections are treated with antibiotics, and usually require veterinary intervention.
- Keeping your dog healthy and up-to-date on vaccinations is the best way to pevent staph infection.
To understand a staph infection in dogs, it’s important to understand the bacteria that causes them.
Staphylococcus—often called staph for short—are bacteria that cause infections in dogs and other mammals, including humans. The name derives from the Greek staphyle, which means “bunch of grapes,” and refers to the spherical appearance of staph bacteria under a microscope.
If staph bacteria overgrow or multiply, they can cause health problems for dogs. Learn more about what causes dog staph infections and how to treat them.
What is a Dog Staph Infection?
A dog staph infection is often a skin infection that occurs if staph bacteria overgrows or if a dog has a weakened immune system.
There are disease-causing strains of staph and non-disease causing strains that can live on or in a variety of hosts. Staph bacteria are often a normal resident in the environment or on dog skin, but can cause problems if the bacteria multiplies.
Can a Dog Die from a Staph Infection?
Most staph infections in dogs are skin infections, which are not life-threatening, and most of the time, with proper veterinary care, dogs can recover without incident from staph infections.
In rare cases, dogs can become infected with staph bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics or strains of staph that produce toxins that can cause organ failure and shock. To prevent this possibility, always seek immediate veterinary attention if you see anything that could be a sign of a staph infection.
Types of Staph Infections in Dogs
The two main types of Staph seen in dogs are:
- Staph aureus
- Staph intermedius
Whatever type it is, staph is not picky where it lives or what it infects, and depending on the strain and the host’s immune system, staph varies in its level of severity or ability to cause disease. Many dogs will carry these strains without ever having any problems.
In dogs, the most common areas affected by staph include the skin, ears, bladder, prostate, lungs, bones, spine, joints, and mammary chains in nursing dogs. Staph can also infect the blood, the heart, and wounds or burns.
What Causes Staph Infections in Dogs?
Staph are called opportunistic pathogens, which means that they take advantage of and colonize any body part where local defense mechanisms and immunity are compromised.
Staph often causes secondary infections, which means that they infect body parts that have been debilitated by chronic disease, burns, or wounds.
Dogs who have skin allergies are prime candidates for staph infections because they often have weakened skin barriers that allows staph to gain a foothold and replicate.
Symptoms of a Staph Infection
Signs of a staph infection vary depending on what part of the body is infected. They can include fever, loss of appetite, and pain.
Abscesses or infections of the skin, eyes, respiratory tract, ears, bladder and urinary tract, joints, and bones are common.
In general, signs of a staph infection in dogs can also include:
- Itchy, red skin that has an odor
- Itchy red ears with increased ear wax, ears may have an odor
- Pimples or red bumps on the skin
- Pus filled lesions on the skin
- Coughing or increased nasal discharge if the respiratory tract is affected
- Increased urination or straining to urinate if the urinary tract is affected
- Limping, swollen, painful joints or bones
Diagnosing Your Dog With a Staph Infection
Staph infections are usually diagnosed by a combination of tests. A veterinarian will conduct a physical exam, and may recommend testing based on physical exam findings.
Additional tests that may be recommended include microscopic examination of skin samples, blood work, urine testing, testing of cerebral spinal fluid, culture and antibiotic susceptibility testing, and/or imaging studies, depending on where the suspected infection may be in the body.
These tests will help your veterinarian determine what is wrong with your dog and how to treat it.
Dog Staph Infection Treatment
Staph infections are treated with appropriate antibiotics, and usually require veterinary intervention. Antibiotics can be administered via pills, topical application in creams or antimicrobial shampoos, or via injection either under the skin or intravenously.
Most staph infections can be treated on an outpatient basis, but if a dog is extremely sick, then he or she may need to be hospitalized.
If your dog has a staph infection, it is very important to follow all of your veterinarian’s instructions and complete all medications, even if your dog is feeling better. Antibiotic resistance is a big problem with some strains of staph, and if your dog is not improving with the prescribed antibiotic, a different one may need to be prescribed.
Antibiotics that could be prescribed for staph infections include:
- Trimethoprim sulfa (TMS)
These antibiotics can be prescribed in oral, topical, or injectable forms.
Cost to Treat Staph Infections in Dogs
Cost of treatment depends on your geographical area, how big your dog is, and how sick your dog is. Expect to pay more if your dog is big, you live near a major metropolitan area, or your dog is very sick.
Exam fees can range from $40-$125, depending on whether you see a general veterinarian or a specialist. Testing can cost anywhere from $30 for a simple skin test to hundreds of dollars for more complicated or invasive testing.
Treatment can range in cost from $30-$100 for antibiotics (depending on the size of your dog, how long your dog needs to be treated, and the type of antibiotics needed). Lotions and topical antimicrobial treatments can range in cost from $30-$60.
Because staph bacteria are opportunistic and don’t usually infect healthy, adult dogs, you also have to factor the cost by figuring out and treating why your dog got a staph infection in the first place. Underlying causes could include but aren’t limited to age (puppy skin infections), allergies, or a weakened immune system due to hormonal problems, for example.
How to Prevent Dog Staph Infections
Because Staph bacteria are everywhere and capitalize on dogs with weakened immune systems, the best way to prevent your dog from getting a staph infection is by ensuring that your dog is as healthy as possible.
Take your dog in for yearly wellness exams, make sure your dog is up-to-date on vaccinations and parasite control, and have annual lab tests to make sure everything in your dog’s body is functioning well. This, combined with a healthy diet and exercise, can help prevent staph infections in your dog.
Most pets and people carry their own strains of staph on their skin. Exposure to staph in itself is not infectious, however, if your dog has been diagnosed with a staph infection, it is recommended to wear gloves and wash your hands after handling your dog. Always check with a veterinarian on how to properly protect yourself.
- Pyoderma (skin infection)
- Otitis Externa (ear infection)
- Osteomyelitis (bone infection)
- Prostatitis (prostate infection)
- Arthritis (joint infection)
- Mastitis (infection of mammary/breast)
- Discospondylitis (infection of intervertebral discs)
- Endocarditis (infection of heart valves)
- Liver Abscess
- Kidney Abscess
- Cystitis (bladder infection)
- Meningitis (infection of spinal cord)