Another question that I periodically get asked is about pets (mainly dogs) and strep throat. The usual situation is a household where there has been strep throat in multiple family members or where someone, usually a child, has had repeated bouts of strep throat. People ask whether their pet could be the source.
Strep throat is caused by Group A Streptococcus, a bacterium that can be found in the throat and on the skin of some healthy people. Strep throat and impetigo are the most common diseases caused by Group A Streptococcus, although severe (‘invasive’) infections can occur, including ‘flesh-eating disease’. Group A Streptococcus is typically spread between people, both from people that are sick and healthy carriers.
Group A Streptococcus carriage by dogs and cats is extremely rare, and it is unlikely that they are involved in transmission to people. There were some older studies implicating dogs in transmission of Group A Strep, however there were weaknesses in the methods used by those studies which probably lead them to misidentify other types of Streptococcus that are often found in dogs as Group A Streptococcus. There is currently no convincing evidence that pets are a source of strep throat infection, although the possibility cannot be completed dismissed.
I have had questions about treatment of pets when recurrent strep throat infections were present in a household, which is not supported by any evidence and could lead to problems like antibiotic resistance and side-effects from antibiotic use such as diarrhea. It’s hard to say whether there is any indication to test dogs or cats when recurrent strep throat is present in a household. Collection of a throat swab by a veterinarian and culture of the swab is fairly easy to do. It’s not unreasonable to consider that but a few things must be remembered:
- Even if Group A Streptococcus is found in a pet, it does not mean that the pet is spreading it. The pet might just be an ‘innocent bystander’ that was infected by a family member. It makes no sense to test the pet if the rest of the household is not being tested.
– Proper identification must be performed by the laboratory to differentiate Group A Strep from other strep. Just finding ‘Streptococcus’ is not useful.
– There are no guidelines for what to do in the unlikely event that a pet is identified as a carrier.
Overall, pets are not likely a major (or even minor) source of strep throat. If strep throat is circulating within a household, it’s most likely being spread between people.