Staph Infection In Dogs – Reasons, Symptoms and Treatment

What causes staph infection?

Staph infection occurs in dogs in the form of a skin disease caused by the staphylococcus bacteria. The bacteria are typically present on the skin surface of dogs and are usually not a cause of harm unless there are any invasive wounds on the site. The bacteria can affect any body part but primarily causes infections in wounds.

Such wounds may be major tears or even minor scratches and gnaws. Sometimes the skin may get irritated due to excessive licking by the dog or exposure to harmful chemicals. This bacteria may also enter the body through the sense organs (eyes, ears, nose, mouth) and cause an infection.

If your pet mistakenly ingests contaminated substances they may also be at risk of staph infection. Some other causes are allergies to food or medication, presence of fleas, chronic diseases, and fungal infections of the blood.

Which dogs are at risk of staph infection?

There is no particular breed of dog that is more likely to have this infection, but usually older dogs are more susceptible to it. This is because of their weakened immunity system. Younger dogs too may have this disease if their immunity system is not strong enough. Very young pups with not fully developed immune systems are also at a higher risk of infection.

What are the symptoms of staph infection?

Although the infection can manifest both internally and externally, the good news is that it is very easy to spot the signs as and when it happens. The signs are visible quite early on and if taken notice of immediately can be healed in no time. Thus it is important to remember to contact your vet the moment you take not of any of the following symptoms –

  1. The foremost symptoms would be irritation, sensitivity, itchiness, redness, rashes, and crusting in the skin and the region surrounding the wound.
  2. Pain, inflammation, abscesses, and formation of pus at the site of infection may be some secondary symptoms that are visible.
  3. Hair loss is also commonly noticed as a symptom of staph infection. This may also take place as loss of fur in patches or slow peeling off of skin. Skin in such areas already becomes more soft and sensitive and this can be quite painful.
  4. This might lead to infections of the respiratory system, along with those of eyes and ears.
  5. In case of internal infections there are common illnesses like fever and unexplained weakness that might actually be symptoms of a staph infection.

Another common behavior to watch out for is to notice if there is one persistent wound or a particular region of the body that your dog is constantly preoccupied with. If you find them frequently scratching, gnawing, biting, or licking at certain regions then take note and alert your vet at once. It might not be cause for concern yet but it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Steps to care for your dog

The immediate thing to do is to visit your vet and get a diagnosis.

The diagnosis

If the infection is external then the diagnosis can be done in a few simple steps, the first of which is a physical examination of the site of infection. In case the symptoms are internal or if the vet is not satisfied with a simple examination, they will suggest a few other tests for the same. These tests will include a complete blood count, a urinalysis, and also a biochemistry profile.

Be sure to tell your vet in detail when and how the first signs of an infection had set in, and also remember to recount your dog’s medical history. In rare cases a few additional tests are necessary if the symptoms are confusing. These include skin tests for allergies and immune reactions to determine the specific cause for inflammation. A skin biopsy may also be recommended. But do not worry, all it requires is one test swab of the skin and this will not hurt your pet at all.

Medical treatment of staph infection

The most common course of medical action is to control the bacterial infestation that is causing the infection. Hence the general prescription is a standard course of antibiotics. For infections of the skin, topical antibiotic serums or creams are most useful. For internal infections the antibiotic is prescribed according to the affected organ or region. Even for skin issues the vet may ask you to give your dog a course of antibiotics to ensure the infection does not spread internally.

In certain cases the vet may consider it safer to drain some liquid and perform surgery on the infected area. In extreme cases they may think removing a part of the tissue would lead to quick recovery. These are steps undertaken only in emergency circumstances.

A few things to keep in mind

  1. Antibacterial shampoos and medicated bath products are often recommended by the vet to boost recovery. Provided that your pet is not allergic to any of the chemicals in them, remember to use the products as often as instructed. It ensures the medicines work better by speeding the healing process and making the antibiotics more effective.
  2. All medicines and associated bath products and creams must be applied exactly as advised by the vet. Overuse and underuse both may yield disastrous results, and it is also painful to watch our furry loved ones suffer because of it.
  3. Every pup is unique and they have their own set of medical problems. Be sure to mention in detail the medical history of your dog to the vet so that they can prescribe the antibiotic most appropriate for your pet. This helps to avoid any undesirable drug interactions.
  4. Infections can be bothersome and painful, so it is important to make sure your pet remains patient. Even after the medication starts they will be tempted to itch, scratch, or bite the region, potentially making the problem worse and open to more infections.
  5. Luckily, there is a way to get around this problem. You can make them wear an Elizabethan collar for a while to stop them from harming themselves or licking the medicine off.
  6. Staphylococcus infections can sometimes be transmitted from your dog to another dog or person, so always be careful while administering the medicine or caring for them while they are infected.
  7. You have to stay positive and patient yourself. It may take a while – up to two weeks for the infection to heal, and you have to monitor your pet properly to ensure the issue does not become a recurrent one.
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What happens if staph infection becomes a recurrent issue?

Most often, such infections are isolated phenomena born out of a specific wound, or a different health issue altogether. Staph infection always happens due to some underlying health condition, which when treated with the proper antibiotics, goes away. In very cases however the problem may not be as easily solvable, and there may even be no permanent solution.

If your dog is allergic to environmental factors or some unidentifiable cause, this may become a recurring issue. This may also happen because of a genetic condition. If the cause of the infection cannot be diagnosed or treated properly, the circumstances cannot be changed and the infection will remain. Since this affects dogs with already weak immune systems, inability to treat the underlying condition will take a toll on their health. The staph infection will be likely to return as soon as the course of antibiotics is over, in these cases.

How can you tell if your dog is predisposed to recurrent staph infection?

The factors which might hint towards a chance of a recurrent issue include the following.

  1. The first in this list is a weak immunity system. If your dog’s immune system is underdeveloped or not strong enough, it leaves the dog open to contract certain diseases which lead to this infection. They are also more susceptible to this infection for this reason.
  2. It may be a problem specific to the breed. Certain breeds like bull dogs have more folds in their skin, which lead to increased trapped heat and moisture. This fosters the growth of bacteria. For such breeds there may be additional steps involved in the treatment procedure, such as antibacterial cleansers and wipes.
  3. Dogs with a variety of pre-existing allergies often suffer more frequently from staph infection. This is because they tend to scratch, itch, and lick more in their affected areas and inadvertently harm themselves. The main problem is the reckless and continual scratching, which opens the skin up to all kind of germs and microbes.

Risks and Precautions

Staph infection is usually not a serious problem if treated properly and at the right time. If the infection becomes a recurring issue of course, it becomes slightly trickier to deal with the problem. While nursing your dog back to health, be aware of the following so as to ensure there are no further complications.

  1. If you have changed vets then it becomes even more crucial to detail your dog’s medical history.
  2. The treatment and strength of the antibiotic depends on how severe the infection is. The downside to using antibiotics is that over time your dog will become resistant to it and the medicine will not work in recurring infections.
  3. For this, a blood test and tissue culture may be suggested to make sure that the antibiotic will take effect and your dog has not become resistant to it.
  4. Other alternatives to antibiotics may be suggested by your vet in order to minimize damages caused by prolonged antibiotics usage.
  5. The topical antibiotic lotions, creams, and medicate shampoos are not mild and may indirectly harm the necessary good bacteria present on skin. While applying these ointments stick to the dosage prescribed and do not go overboard. It will not heal quicker but cause harm.
  6. You should never let staph infection go untreated, no matter how minor it might be. If it is left unattended the infection may slowly enter the blood stream and cause fatal emergencies such as blood poisoning.

Staph infection is one of the commonest afflictions dogs are faced with. But that does not mean it is a trivial issue that will heal on its own. Staph infection may recur more than once in a dog’s lifetime and over time it becomes easier to spot and understand the symptoms.

 Because it usually takes place on the surface of skin, it is easy to understand for the layman how advanced or early stages the infection is in. Regular checkups to the vet become particularly significant in this regard because then the onus is not on you to guess whether the infection is serious or not.