Is MRSA a serious problem in small animals?
MRSA in pets is rare at present, but it is becoming a serious and growing concern among experts. Only a few studies have looked at the levels of MRSA in pets, but interest is growing in the veterinary community. Professor David Lloyd at the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons’ hospital found that a small number of dogs at the hospital were colonised with MRSA, and Canadian researchers looked at cases of domestic pets as well as horses that were positively infected with MRSA. Research will soon be underway in the UK into how many cases have occurred in the UK. This is due to be published in 2005.
Not all of the awareness is in the veterinary world; occupational departments, particularly those attached to NHS Trusts, are recognising that staff repeatedly colonised by MRSA are often getting the contamination from their pets, although this has not been studied systematically.
How can you prevent your pet from contracting MRSA or being colonised?
Preventing a pet from being colonised with MRSA depends upon good levels of personal hygiene, caution when around other animals and owners and a clean environment as dirt and grime encourages bacteria to live and grow. Using an antimicrobial soap to wash hands after handling a pet, especially before food preparation or administering medical care to a person or animal, is essential. When washing, particular attention should be paid to the area between the thumb and forefinger. Wet hands first, then lather soap for at least 10- 15 seconds. Rinse thoroughly as this is when the bacteria is actually removed from the skin. Hands should never be left wet or damp as this encouraged more bacteria to colonise the skin.
Then we need to keep our pet as healthy as we can so as to reduce the likelihood of their immune system becoming impaired. Although we may have to see a vet, we should not allow them to prescribe antibiotics to our pet unnecessarily. If we do need to give our pets a course of antibiotics it is crucial to finish the course – failing to do that will always leave bacteria behind to start the infection off again.
We must also be aware of the risks that we or other family members may pose, especially if we have to spend time in hospital ourselves.
The only way to find out if we or our pet carry MRSA is to be swabbed. The reason for doing so is to ensure that if surgery is necessary, the vet can make sure that the right precautions are in place to give the best care and protection. The Royal Veterinary College in Potters Bar, for instance, swabs all animals before surgery and take the necessary precautions to prevent contamination of wounds.
Generally, MRSA is easier to treat in animals than in humans, especially if caught in time. The problem is that although a good vet will detect and treat the infection, a poor or ignorant vet is likely to simply tell us that we are unlucky and “these sorts of infections occur following surgery” This is not acceptable.
All surgery carries a risk – but if the vets are responsible, our pets should not die unnecessarily.
How will we know if our pet may be colonised with MRSA ?
The only sure way of knowing whether our pet is colonised is through the culture of a swab, but there are other factors that should help to warn us of the possibility. If our pet develops dermatitis, and if this is infected, this is a sign of an underlying disease that is likely to impair the animal’s immune system. Any infected dermatitis should be checked for MRSA.
A long course of antibiotics can also impair the immune system, and we should also consider the risk of colonisation if our pet has to stay for any length of time in a vet hospital. If we, or a family member have to spend time in hospital then there is a much higher risk that we will become colonised and we should be aware of the risk that poses to our pet.
What signs should I look for if my pet develops infection from MRSA following surgery.
If a pet has surgery and shows signs of lethargy, lack of appetite, or the wound becomes swollen, inflamed or red – we need to seek immediate help from our vet and suggest possible infection. The success of surgery is strongly influenced by the care our vet provides. Cultures from the wound should be taken for biopsy to determine if there is an infection and, if so, what type it is. Not all infections are MRSA and most post-operative infections can be treated successfully but bacteria like to breed in warm and dark places such as joints, and this is why orthopaedic surgery always presents a greater risk of infection.
The best way of avoiding infection by MRSA is to have our pet swabbed prior to surgery. If the swab is positive, we must ensure that the vet knows what precautions to take and that he will take them.
How can we ensure the veterinary team gives our pets proper care Click here