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canine health problems
White dog scratching belly

The essentials

  • Staph is stubborn — Because staph is one of the most stubborn conditions to treat, it’s one of the most frequent conditions vets see. It’s also possible for infections to recur, meaning it might take multiple trips to the vet to resolve.
  • Staph infections in dogs aren’t contagious — At least not typically. Most staph infections aren’t easily transferred between dogs, or from dogs to people. In rare cases, like if your dog has methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus pseudintermedius (MRSP), it is possible. For additional information, it’s always best to reach out to your vet and primary care provider.
  • Staph is typically a secondary infection — Often, an underlying condition causes the staph infection in the first place. Finding and treating the cause will enable your dog to kick their infection and prevent it from happening again.
  • Staph infections are common in certain breeds — English and French bulldogs, pit bulls, shar-peis, and Labrador retrievers are a few of the breeds most likely to develop staph infections.

Staph infections in dogs: The 411

The most common type of staph infection is staph dermatitis (also called staph pyoderma or superficial pyoderma). The genus of bacteria that causes it, Staphylococcus, normally reside on the skin of both people and dogs without causing issues. But when a dog’s skin becomes irritated or damaged, like with a cut, wound, or scrape, the bacteria enters the body and multiplies, causing a skin infection.

Signs of a staph infection often include pus at the wound site, along with redness, sensitivity, and crusting of the surrounding skin. If left untreated, serious staph infections may progress to septicemia (blood poisoning) and death.

The bacteria that cause staph are widespread and mostly harmless. However, a select few, such as Staphylococcus aureus, may cause infection in nearly any part of your dog’s body, like the heart, brain, spinal cord, urinary system, or reproductive organs. These diseases usually present with symptoms of fever and weakness but are ultimately quite rare.

These infections can sometimes be resistant to antibiotics. This type of infection, known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus pseudintermedius (MRSP) in dogs, can pose a serious risk to your pet’s health.

👉 If you suspect your pup has a staph infection, it’s time to head to your local vet’s office. 

Dog's skin with dermatitis

Dog’s skin with dermatitis, which puts this dog at risk of developing a staph infection

Types of canine staph infections

Although skin infections are the most common type of staph infection in dogs, there are also several other forms. The following list of staph infections in dogs is ordered from most to least common:

  • Staph dermatitis. The most common type of staph infection, staph dermatitis causes a dog’s skin to become red and inflamed. This occurs when the skin’s barrier is broken because of irritation or injury, allowing bacteria to penetrate and create an infection.
  • Recurrent staph skin infections. This frustrating condition occurs because the underlying cause cannot be identified or eliminated. Any time the immune system is weakened, such as with an allergic reaction, a staph infection can flare up again.
  • Methicillin-resistant staph infections. People commonly think of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) when they hear the term, “methicillin-resistant staph infection.” However, MRSP is the strain that typically infects dogs. These bacterial strains can have genes that make them resistant to common antimicrobials. They can also develop because of antibiotic overuse.
  • Cystitis. The most common cause of bladder inflammation in dogs is a bacterial infection. E. coli, Staphylococcus, or Proteus species are a few culprits.
  • Osteomyelitis. A staph infection, in association with a traumatic accident or surgical implant, can also cause inflammation of the bone or bone marrow.
  • Metritis. A staph infection can also cause metritis, though it’s more commonly caused by E. coli.
  • Discospondylitis. Various strains of bacteria can cause inflammation of the intervertebral disc and adjacent vertebrae.
  • Encephalitis. Encephalitis refers to inflammation of the brain. It can also include inflammation of the spinal cord and surrounding membranes). German shorthaired pointers, Maltese, and Yorkshire terriers are predisposed to encephalitis.
  • Necrotizing fasciitis. Canine necrotizing fasciitis is a rare infection of the deepest layer of the skin. The progression of this disease is extremely rapid and can turn into septic shock in a matter of hours.

Signs your dog has a staph infection

Several signs indicate your dog has a staph infection. These symptoms can vary but may include:

  • Excessive itching, licking, or chewing
  • Infections of the eyes, ears, skin, or respiratory system
  • Patchy fur with peeling, crusty skin
  • Blisters
  • Papules
  • Skin redness and inflammation
  • Skin lesions
  • Foul odor of the skin
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Atypical behavior, like irritability
  • Severe pain at the site of a wound

What causes staph infections in dogs?

Anything that compromises the skin’s barriers or allows natural bacteria to overwhelm the skin’s defenses can lead to a staph infection in dogs. Such circumstances include:

  • An infected cut, scrape, or wound
  • Scratching, licking, or chewing
  • Coming into contact with a contaminated material
  • Ingestion of that contaminated material
  • Improperly sterilized medical equipment

Other common causes of itching

Treatment ultimately depends on the cause, so it’s important to work with your vet to get to the root of your dog’s itching and scratching. A few of the most typical underlying causes and their treatments include:

  • Allergies. Allergies are a frustrating condition for pet owners and veterinarians alike. Lifelong management consists of a multimodal treatment plan that can include steroids, immunotherapy, medicated shampoos and ointments, skin supplements, prescription medication to stop their itching, and more.

👉 Long-term steroid use for allergy treatment can have negative side effects, like weakening your dog’s immune system. You should always discuss these and other treatment options with your vet to determine what might work best for your pup!

  • External parasites like mange mites, fleas, and ticks. Year-round flea and tick prevention is critical and comes in many easy-to-administer formulations.
  • Stress. Stress and anxiety can cause your pup to lick and chew at their skin. Calming medications and supplements and frequent physical and mental stimulation can help ease your pup’s anxiety.
  • Poor hygiene. Regular laundering of your dog’s bedding and collar reduces the risk of bacterial contamination. Routine baths also help keep your dog’s natural bacteria colonies under control and prevent itchy overgrowth.
  • Bacterial or fungal infections. Topical or oral antibacterial or antifungal treatments work well to combat these infections, though treatment may take weeks.
  • Weakened immune system. A high-quality diet and management of chronic diseases can help your older dog fight off bacterial overgrowth that can cause itchy staph infections.
  • Hormonal imbalance. If your dog has hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease, lifelong medication can keep their condition in check. Without proper treatment, your dog may develop skin issues that can lead to a staph infection.

How are canine staph infections diagnosed?

Diagnosis of a staph infection can require a variety of diagnostic and skin tests to determine the source of the problem. To start, your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam of your dog. Then, they may request any of the following tests:

  • Urinalysis
  • Skin swab and cytology
  • Complete blood count
  • Biochemistry profile
  • Skin biopsy
  • Wound culture
  • X-rays
  • Allergy testing (either of the blood or skin)

Identifying the bacterial source of the infection will help your vet accurately diagnose your dog and provide proper treatment.

How do vets treat staph infections in dogs?

Your vet’s recommendations for treatment may include:

  • Topical creams and lotions. Topical therapy works well to reduce the skin’s bacterial load while repairing your pup’s skin barrier. Plus, most ointments are soothing to inflamed, irritated skin and provide your itchy dog with relief.
  • Oral antibiotics. Antibiotics are often necessary to fully eradicate a staph infection. However, your vet will probably try a topical therapy first.
  • Antibacterial shampoos. Medicated shampoos can tackle bacteria and fungus. These shampoos are much more effective at relieving your dog’s itching than an over-the-counter oatmeal shampoo.

  • Insertion of drains to remove excess fluid. If your dog has developed an abscess from a staph infection, a stent will allow the fluid to drain out, clearing the infection.
  • Surgical intervention. In the case of metritis, your dog’s vet may recommend surgery to remove the infected uterus. In the case of osteomyelitis, infected hardware or implants from a previous surgery may need to be removed.
  • Removal of necrotic tissue. If your dog is suffering from necrotizing fasciitis, removal of the affected tissue or limb may be necessary.

Mild infections can require 1 to 2 weeks of therapy while deep infections can take 4 to 8 weeks of treatment to cure. Your dog’s vet must find and treat the underlying cause of the infection for it to go away.

Soothing your dog’s symptoms at home

Treatment can take time to take effect, so your pooch might be itchy and uncomfortable until then. In the meantime, you can help keep your dog comfortable with cool water baths and anti-itch shampoo. You can also add omega-3 fatty acids to your dog’s diet, which can greatly improve skin health and reduce inflammation in dogs with allergies.

Our favorite allergy supplements for dogs

It’s also important to speak with your dog’s vet to determine the best way to manage and treat any seasonal or food-related allergies your pup may have. You might also want to ask your vet if your pooch could benefit from an allergy supplement. Below are a couple of our vet-approved favorites:

How to prevent staph infections in your dog

Preventing staph infections in your dog can be accomplished by preventing their itching in the first place. Sounds easy, right? Not always. However, there are a few ways you can prevent your pup from damaging their skin:

  • Administer year-round parasite prevention. Prevention starts with regular mite, tick, and flea treatments. External parasites can make your pup itchy, causing them to scratch and damage their skin.
  • Keep your dog’s living conditions clean. Keep your dog’s bedding and belongings clean with frequent washings. Although staph infections aren’t contagious, the bacteria can infiltrate a break in your dog’s skin and cause an infection.
  • Give your pup regular baths. Routine bathing removes allergens from your dog’s skin, making them less likely to scratch.
  • Feed your dog a healthy diet. A high-quality, hypoallergenic diet can limit the possibility of any itch-causing food allergies.
  • Take your dog to the vet. Schedule regular veterinary exams to monitor your dog for skin issues. Other conditions, like allergies, hypothyroidism, and Cushing’s disease, can cause skin problems. Your vet can keep an eye on your pooch and look out for these issues.

Frequently asked questions

How are staph infections in dogs treated?

Topical and oral antibiotics will take care of a staph infection in your dog, but your pet’s vet must find and treat the underlying cause of the infection in order to prevent recurrence.

How do I know if my dog has a staph infection?

Look out for the common signs. Superficial staph infections can cause skin inflammation, crusty, scaly skin, hair loss, itching, sensitivity, or a rash. It can also lead to an abscess. Internal staph infections can cause a loss of appetite, high fever, rigidity, muscle spasms, or shock. In some cases, your dog might bleed from the nose or mouth. Also keep an eye out for blood on bruises and in your dog’s stools.

Can my dog give me a staph infection?

Transmission of staph infections from dogs to people is rare. However, in some instances dogs can transmit the infection to immunosuppressed individuals, so proper hygiene is a must.

How contagious are staph infections in dogs?

Not very. While dogs can pass bacteria to other dogs and people, infection only occurs if the skin is damaged or there is an underlying medical condition.

Are staph infections in dogs serious?

Extremely serious. If left untreated, staph infections in dogs can lead to septicemia, canine toxic shock syndrome, organ failure, and death.