A recent question: "If a dog has severe atopy that is poorly managed, and is colonized w/ MRSA  (superficial dermatidis on neck ventrum and axilla) are repeat infections w/ MRSA likely, if the allergies cannot be controlled?"

Dogs with atopy (allergic skin disease) are prone to opportunistic infections because of the abnormal skin "environment" and trauma from licking and scratching. Damage to the skin creates the opportunity for various bacteria to cause infections, including some bacteria that may usually live on normal skin without causing problems.  Most commonly, staphylococci are involved, and this may include skin infections with MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). The likelihood that a dog will develop an MRSA skin infection depends on the likelihood of exposure to MRSA. If the dog is already a carrier (i.e. has MRSA in its nose or intestinal tract), the odds are greater because exposure of the skin to the bacterium is more likely. If the dog is owned by someone with MRSA or someone who visits human hospitals, the risks are likely greater as well because of the increased chance of MRSA exposure via the owner.

For most dogs, the risk of MRSA infection is not high. Fortunately, dogs that are MRSA carriers are typically only carriers for a short period of time. They usually eliminate MRSA carriage naturally within a couple weeks, if re-infection is prevented. So, for a dog that is a carrier or has an MRSA skin infection, if carriage is eliminated and the infection is properly treated, the risk of subsequent MRSA infections should be quite low, as long as there is a not a high likelihood of re-exposure.

Dogs with chronic skin disease should not visit human hospitals in order to reduce the risk of developing MRSA infection. If such a dog is owned by someone who is infected or colonized with MRSA, particular attention should be paid to handwashing to reduce the risk of transmission of MRSA to the dog. In situations other than these, recurrent MRSA infection is probably not a risk if basic hygiene practices are used. If an MRSA infection is present, it must be properly treated – sometimes apparently "repeated" infections are actually infections that were never completely eliminated in the first place.  A key component of management of dogs with atopy (and other chronic skin conditions) is getting the atopy under control so that there is less chance of secondary bacterial infection.

More information about MRSA in pets can be found on the Worms & Germs Resources page.