If your dog's been scratching more than usual and you can't find any fleas, look closely at his skin. An area of redness or pimples means he probably has a Staph skin infection. Don't panic, though. Most Staph infections in dogs are minor and very few are transmissible to humans.
Understanding Staph Infections
Staph, or Staphylococcus, is a group of bacteria that normally reside on the skin of dogs without causing problems. Sometimes, such as when your dog's skin is irritated by chewing, scratching or licking, the bacteria become invasive and rapidly multiply. The resulting infection usually causes either a red area with a center pustule or a circular red area with crusting and hair loss. Healthy dogs rarely become severely ill from common staph skin infections.
Symptoms of Staph Infections
Red circular patches on your dog, especially when accompanied by oozing, crusting, hair loss or excessive scratching, are highly suggestive of a staph skin infection. Other symptoms may include scabbing, blistering skin and lethargy. Some dogs may seem very unwell, while others will have only minor symptoms. Staph skin infections are sometimes mistaken for ringworm, as both infections cause red, circular lesions on the skin, which makes professional diagnosis essential.
Treating Staph in Dogs
Because bacteria cause staph, these infections are generally responsive to antibiotics. Once your veterinarian confirms the specific organism responsible for your dog's infection, he will prescribe an appropriate antibiotic. Your dog may need to continue taking antibiotics for up to six weeks, according to VCA Animal Hospitals. Bathing him in antibacterial shampoos and applying topical antibiotic ointment may speed recovery. Additionally, the underlying cause of the initial itching must be found so that treatment can begin. Unsuccessful treatment of the underlying problem means continued itching and scratching and a high risk of future infection recurrence.
Sometimes staph skin infections in dogs are caused by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus pseudintermedius, or MRSP. This "superbug" is resistant to many antibiotics, making it very difficult to treat. Plus, MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, can infect pets as well as humans, the Illinois Department of Public Health warns.
To prevent catching MRSA from your dog and to prevent your dog from transmitting it to other pets in your home, keep his wounds covered at all times, wash your hands after every encounter with your pet, sanitize your hands with alcohol after changing your dog's dressings or coming into direct contact with his wound, and wear gloves every time you clean up after your pet. Disinfect washable items by laundering them in hot water and detergent and drying in a hot dryer, and clean contaminated surfaces with a solution of 2 tablespoons bleach and 1 quart water. Isolate dogs infected with MRSA until your vet tells you otherwise.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Sandra Ketcham has nearly two decades of experience writing and editing for major websites and magazines. Her work appears in numerous web and print publications, including "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution," "The Tampa Bay Times," Visit Florida, "USA Today," AOL's Gadling and "Kraze Magazine."