Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a multidrug resistant bacterium that is often referred to as a ‘superbug’. It is an important cause of disease in people, both in hospitals and in the general population. It can also infect various animal species, including dogs and cats. A small percentage of healthy people and animals (1-3%) carry MRSA without knowing it, and usually without ever having any problems. Unfortunately, increasing awareness of the potential for healthy pets to carry MRSA has led to excessive focus on pets in some situations. While transmission of MRSA between people and pets can happen, it is probably more common for it to go from people to pets, than pets to people. Pets should not be ‘blamed’ for human MRSA infections without good evidence, and there are only certain situations where evaluating pets is currently indicated.
Here are some important points from the Canadian guidelines for management of community-associated MRSA in people.
- Testing of pets for MRSA carriage should only be considered when there is recurrent MRSA in the household and transmission is ongoing despite the implementation of household infection control measures.
- Testing of pets should only be done as part of an overall investigation of the household. Testing of pets but not human household contacts is not indicated.
- Removal of the pet should only be considered in exceptional circumstances, and removal should be temporary. Such circumstances could include households where controlling contact with the pet is not possible and/or when people in the household are being treated to eliminate MRSA carriage. The beneficial effects of pet contact should be considered in any discussion about removal of the pet from the household.
If you have MRSA, wash your hands frequently, limit contact with your pet’s face and do not touch wounds on your pet. These should greatly reduce the risk of MRSA transmission.