A large percentage of advice calls that I get about methicillin-resistant staph infections in dogs are regarding skin infections. Skin infections (pyoderma) are a common problem, a leading cause of antibiotic use in dogs, and an often frustrating problem for vets and pet owners alike. One problem is that, unlike many other types of infections, skin infections are often recurrent. This frequently leads to an ongoing cycle of infection-treatment-resolution-infection-treatment-resolution… The net result is some dogs get treated very regularly and for long periods of time with antibiotics, and it’s not particularly surprising that highly drug-resistant bacteria like MRSA or MRSP eventually become involved.

Normal, healthy, intact skin is an excellent barrier to bacterial infection. Various bacteria normally live on the skin but do not usually cause infection. Skin infections typically (if not always) develop in response to some underlying skin disease, such as flea allergy dermatitis, food allergy, atopy, Cushing’s disease or hypothyroidism. Identifying and treating a skin infection is one thing. Identifying and treating the reason for the infection is another, and that is arguably the most critical component. Ignoring the underlying cause may not be the end of the world for a single infection, because proper treatment and a susceptible bacterium can result in a successful outcome, but ultimately ignoring the real problem can lead to a difficult-to-treat, resistant infections.

Any diagnosis of pyoderma should be accompanied by consideration of the underlying cause. If a cause is apparent, this should be treated (if possible). If a cause is not readily apparent, it should be investigated. By investigated, I mean a real search for the problem, not a cursory examination, half-hearted feeding trial and little more. There is almost certainly an underlying cause and, at the end of the day, time, effort and money are better spent on trying to identify the root issue rather than just throwing round after round of antibiotics at the dog. In some cases, the cause (while it’s probably there) can’t be identified, but it’s definitely worth trying anyway.

If your dog has been diagnosed with a skin infection, ask why it happened. If there is not a clear answer, talk to your veterinarian about the best plan to identify the cause. If at all possible, follow through with the plan. It may include certain diagnostic tests (which cost money) or dietary restriction (which  takes effort), but it should be thought of as an investment in your pet’s health, as well as a potential way to keep multidrug-resistant bacteria (some of which can infect people) out of the house, to save future treatment costs, and to keep your pet much more comfortable.