I was asked this the other day, in regards to a post about pets and recurrent strep infections in people: "You listed a few things to remember and one of them was how the pet might be an "innocent bystander infected by a family member." Is there any indication that a dog might get sick from licking a person infected with Group A Strep?"
Streptococcal infections in dogs are very rare. When they occur, they are typically caused by Streptococcus canis, a Group G strep. Group B strep infections have also been reported. I’m not aware of any reports of Group A (Streptococcus pyogenes) infections in dogs, despite the fact that exposure is probably very common.
Group A strep is a predominantly, if not exclusively, human pathogen. It can be found in healthy individuals (e.g. in the throats of 10-15% of healthy kids) and is the main cause of strep throat. Group A strep also causes invasive infections such as cellulitis, various soft tissue infections, and in rare circumstances, necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating disease). Considering how commonly healthy people carry this bacterium and how common strep throat is, you have to assume that dogs are frequently exposed to this bacterium from household contacts.
Licking a healthy human carrier would certainly create an opportunity for a dog to be exposed. Licking wounds of patients with strep infections would probably be worse. Since exposure is probably common and we don’t really identify problems in dogs with this bacterium, the risk of infection in dogs is presumably very low. However, basic measures should always be used to reduce the risk of exposure to infectious agents. Even though we don’t recognize Group A strep as a problem in dogs, you don’t want your dog to be the first case. Dogs shouldn’t be allowed to lick infected wounds for both the health of the dog and the person. Strict avoidance of people with strep throat doesn’t make sense, but licking should perhaps be avoided since the sick person could also be at higher risk for a secondary infection from the multitude of bacteria present in the dog’s mouth.
Bottom line… the risk of Group A strep infection in dogs is minimal, but basic hygiene practices can make the risks even lower.