When this normal bacteria undergoes a genetic mutation, it can become a pet’s worst nightmare. Instead of being a normal part of your pet’s healthy bacteria it can cause life threatening infection due to its resistance to even the strongest antibiotics, such as Methicillin. These infections are called Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or “MRSA infections,”and are resistant to most antibiotic treatments.
As a result, they can lead to serious illness and even death.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a serious public health problem that is getting progressively worse and actually exacts a greater human death toll than “modern plagues” like AIDS.
Unfortunately, MRSA infections are also on the rise in our companion animals.
Typically, staph bacteria are relatively harmless. If the bacteria enter your pet’s body through a cut, it may cause an infection (staph bacteria is a common cause of skin infections) but even these are typically mild and can be easily treated. But unlike typical staph bacteria, MRSA is much more dangerous because it has become resistant to the broad-spectrum antibiotics commonly used to treat it, such as methicillin, oxacillin, penicillin and amoxicillin.
Why MRSA Poses a Threat to Your Dog or Cat
Antibiotics are one of the top two drugs prescribed by traditional veterinarians (steroids are the other).
As a holistic veterinarian, I am convinced antibiotics are over prescribed to the point of abuse in many conventional veterinary offices. Over prescribing antibiotics can set your pet up for a future allergic reaction to the drug. But worse, frequent and often unnecessary use of these drugs is causing antibiotic resistance in a growing number of bacteria strains.
When antibiotics are no longer effective against serious bacterial infections, life-threatening consequences are the result. MRSA is an example of a serious and sometimes fatal staph infection that is antibiotic resistant.
Risk Factors and Symptoms
The symptoms of MRSA in humans and animals are similar and include:
Skin and soft tissue lesions
Necrotizing fasciitis (a flesh-eating disease that can be life-threatening)
Necrotizing pneumonia (pneumonia that causes death of lung tissue)
Sepsis (a septic infection of the entire body)
The most common locations for these antibiotic-resistant infections are the skin, ears, and open wounds, especially post-surgical wound sites. An MRSA skin infection typically starts out as small, red, pimple-like bumps or boils. These may progress into deep, painful abscesses, and his skin may be swollen, pus-filled, painful, and red.
If your pet has experienced any of the following situations, it is at higher risk for a MRSA infection:
Contact with other animals or people who have the infection (research indicates the MRSA bacterial strain can be transmitted back and forth between pets and their humans)
If your pet has MRSA as opposed to a more common infection, it may not be immediately obvious. An MRSA skin infection looks like any other -- until it refuses to heal. Another clue is an infection that isn’t responding to a broad spectrum antibiotic.
Because MRSA is so difficult to treat, it can easily progress from a superficial skin infection to a life-threatening infection in your pet’s bones, joints, bloodstream, heart valves, lungs, or surgical wounds.
An MRSA infection in the bloodstream is fatal about 50 percent of the time, and if the infection is found in the lungs, there is a 33 percent chance it will cause death.
MRSA infections of the skin are less likely to be fatal, but can result in chronic, unresolved lesions and sores. And, needless to say, this can pose a significant threat to you and the rest of your family, as MRSA is easily spread through contact.
Obviously, the best treatment for this serious threat is to prevent infection in the first place.
Proceed with Caution When Treating Your Pet for Infection or Other Illness
Alternatives to antibiotics should be used whenever possible. Many conditions for which antibiotics are often indiscriminately prescribed respond very well to a combination of herbs, homeopathic remedies, immune system stimulants and nutritional supplements.
It’s important to realize that antibiotics are not without side effects, some of them long-term. They can cause problems ranging from diarrhea, to tooth discoloration, to suppression of your pet’s bone marrow -- even permanent deafness. And last, but likely the most problematic of all, there’s the problem with creating antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria that normally only pose a minor danger.
Therefore, choosing antibiotic therapy should be a serious, measured decision. It should never be viewed as the best, quickest, or “safest” way to help your pet heal from every illness or infection.
If your dog or cat isn’t facing a life-threatening health situation, talk with your veterinarian about options other than prescription medication. Explain your desire to approach treatment cautiously, interfering minimally in your pet’s natural ability to heal itself.
What to Do if Your Pet Really Does Need an Antibiotic
If your veterinarian determines an antibiotic is truly necessary to heal your dog or cat, I strongly recommend you review and follow these guidelines to minimize the dangers to your pet:
Choose the correct antibiotic for the specific infection should be done to determine the specific type of bacteria causing the infection, so that the appropriate antibiotic can be prescribed.
Administer the proper dose (amount) to effectively resolve the infection. Underdosing your pet may seem safer but can actually foster antibiotic resistance.
Define the proper intervals for dosing (once ... twice ... or four times a day?) and follow your vet’s advice.
Define the right length of time to keep your pet on the drug (long enough to be effective, but no longer) ... stopping antibiotics when you think the infection is gone vs. giving the whole course is yet another way bacterial resistance is fostered! Additionally, if you stop therapy too early and your pet’s infection isn’t completely healed, you may have to start the antibiotic treatment all over again.
If the culture shows that a bacterial infection is not present, don’t use antibiotics. Remember, antibiotics DO NOT WORK on viral or fungal infections!
How to Fight the Side Effects of Antibiotic Treatment
It’s important to realize that antibiotics are “anti-life,” and indiscriminately kills off ALL bacteria -- both good and bad. If your dog or cat has been treated with antibiotics, the healthy bacteria in her digestive tract have also been destroyed, which can set the stage for additional health problems, such as loss of vitality, poor food absorption, and dysbiosis (leaky gut syndrome).
Therefore, it’s important to re-seed your pet’s system with friendly micro-organisms during and after antibiotic therapy, and re-establish a healthy balance of gut bacteria. This will help to keep your dog’s or cat’s digestive tract working optimally and keep her immune system strong.
The probiotic I give my own animals and the one I recommend for all my pet patients is Complete Probiotics for Pets.
In my professional opinion, this is the highest quality pet probiotic available anywhere, and will help to regenerate and maintain your dog’s or cat’s digestive health -- especially during and after medical intervention and prescription drug therapy.