I have MRSA...should my pet be tested?

I get this question a lot, from both pet owners and veterinarians. Typically, my answer is "no."

Why not?

  • The two big questions I always ask are "why do you want to know and what would you do with the results?"

Sometimes people want to know their pet's MRSA status to see if the pet was the source of their infection.

  • However, MRSA in pets is typically associated with MRSA in humans, i.e. if a pet is carrying MRSA, it probably got it from the owner or another close contact. Finding MRSA in a pet after someone is diagnosed with an MRSA infection doesn't mean the pet was the source. More likely, the person got MRSA somewhere else and passed it on to their pet.

Sometimes, people want to know if their pet is at risk of an infection.

  • Carrying MRSA presumably increases the risk of an MRSA infection, but likely only in animals already at risk of an infection because of underlying disease or other risk factors such as surgery. The risk to the average pet from short-term MRSA colonization is probably limited. Also, if the pet was identified as a carrier, we wouldn't be doing anything to eliminate carriage, since we have no idea if decolonization therapy is effective in animals, and it doesn't seem to be needed (because dogs and cats almost always get rid of it on their own). Therefore, it's hard to justify screening for this reason. If the animal was getting ready to undergo surgery, then that might change my answer.

For me, it's also very important to consider what you'd do with the results of any test. In general, in a household where a person has an MRSA infection:

If the pet tests negative, I'd say that it doesn't 100% guarantee that the pet is truly negative, since no screening test is absolutely 100% sensitive. Also, the test only tells you the status of the pet at the time of sampling. It could have picked up MRSA five minutes after the swabs were taken. So, a negative result means the animal is probably negative. Since it's not absolutely negative and since the pet would be at risk of picking up MRSA from the infected person after it was tested, I'd recommend close attention to hygiene around the pet (especially good hand hygiene and avoiding contact with the nose) to reduce the chance of the pet becoming colonized and to reduce the risk of MRSA transmission from pet to person if the pet was actually a carrier.

If the pet tests positive, I'd say that we certainly couldn't say the pet was the source of infection. More likely, it got it from the person with the infection. Since we know that MRSA carriage in dogs and cats is almost always transient, and that they will almost always get rid of it on their own if re-exposure is prevented, I'd recommend close attention to hygiene around the pet (especially good hand hygiene and avoiding contact with the nose).

Since my response to either result would essentially be the same, why test?

Efforts are better spent on good household hygiene practices and restricting contact with high risk sites. On both pets and people, this would include the nose, as well as any sites that are infected or sites that are prone to infection (e.g. skin lesions). That's going to be much more worthwhile and rewarding than testing the pet.

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