MRSA In Pets: Who's Giving It? Who's Getting It?

Patty Khuly, DVM
Updated: June 18, 2015
Published: September 08, 2009
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A couple of months ago a tearful client explained that she’d had to go into the hospital for a MRSA infection. And now that her physician had demanded she remove all pets from her household, her husband and teenaged son had refused to live in the same house until she complied with the order––which, of course, she didn’t do. (Would you?)

Because of the limited data available on MRSA transmission between humans and household animals (we definitely know it’s possible), it's been my experience that many physicians treating MRSA infection patients have taken to recommending the “no pets” thing.

Apparently, plenty of veternarians have been hearing the same thing. According to a study in the latest issue of JAVMA (Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association),

“...the authors have dealt with many situations in which it has been recommended that pets be removed from the household or euthanatized, even without verification of concurrent colonization, let alone the identification of pets as the source of infection.”

Consequently, the veterinary community has taken on the task: Figure out who’s giving MRSA to whom and what the real risk of transmission might be. Because while it’s the physician’s role to be cautious and suspicious of pets, it’s veterinary medicine’s job to preserve the human-animal bond––not to mention the health of our patients––by sussing out the truth of the matter.

Not that physicians always listen to their veterinary counterparts. (Consider the case of toxoplasmosis, for which some OB/Gyns continue to urge prevention during pregnancy through household cat eradication.) But if we don’t arm ourselves with solid research on the subject, more pet owners may suffer the unnecessary loss of their pets.

Indeed, the veterinary community has begun to unravel the mystery with some initial forays into the assessment of transmissibility of MRSA between humans and animals.

The results?

In this current JAVMA study, the high prevalence of identical strains of MRSA among both humans and pets in MRSA-infected households indicated that transmission was likely occurring. But here’s an interesting catch:

“ is likely that humans were the ultimate source of MRSA in most households because most pets have limited contact with other animals.”

Yes, humans appear more likely to be the initiators of transmission. Which only makes sense given our heavy interaction with a variety of humans and with places and situations that might easily prove infectious. Our pets? Not so much.

Sure, more study is needed. But it appears that most of it will be geared towards determining the direction of transmission and to figuring out what it is we need to do to protect our pets from the wrath of our own greeblies...and not the other way around.


In today's DailyVet over on PetMD: "Ectropion and entropion in dogs and its animal welfare issues."

Image:  / Shutterstock