There is a lot of concern and confusion about methicillin-resistant staphylococcal infections in pets. "Staphylococcus" is genus of bacteria which contains numerous different species. All these species can come in ‘methicillin-resistant’ forms that are resistant to many antibiotics, but some of these species are of greater concern than others. The main species of concern are discussed below.
Methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA): This species is the big concern. MRSA is an important cause of disease in people and an increasing problem in pets. It can cause serious infections and be transmitted between animals and people (in both directions).
Methicillin-resistant S. intermedius (MRSI): Actually, what most laboratories still call S. intermedius appears to be a related species called S. pseudintermedius. Regardless, MRSI (or MRSP) can cause a variety of infections in pets – usually skin and ear infections. While it can be spread from animals to people, this is likely rare and there is much less concern about MRSI compared to MRSA in terms of risk to humans from infected pets.
Methicillin-resistant S. schleiferi (MRSS): This species is closely related to (and often misidentified) as S. intermedius. It is most commonly found in skin and ear infections. There is no information about the risk of transmission to people from pets. It is probably possible but very unlikely.
Methicillin-resistant coagulase-negative staphylococci: This is a large group of staphylococcal species that are usually lumped together. They are commonly found in or on healthy dogs and cats as part of the body’s normal bacterial population. They are less common causes of disease. There is currently minimal concern about transmission to humans.
MRSA is the main concern with regard to staph infections, and warrants particular attention when it causes infection in a pet. In these cases, important precautions to take include washing your hands frequently, avoiding contact with the infected part of the animal’s body (plus the nose, where MRSA often hangs out), keeping the infected site(s) bandaged (if possible), keeping infected pets off the bed, and restricting contact with high risk people (e.g. young children, elderly, immunocompromised). For the other staph species, the risks to people are much lower, but it is still reasonable to implement these measures to further reduce the risks.