Staph Infection in Dogs

Published Dec. 12, 2023
A Pitbull Terrier plays in a field.

In This Article


What Are Staph Infections in Dogs?

Staph infections are caused by the overgrowth of Staphylococcus bacteria on the surface of a dog’s skin. Small amounts of this type of bacteria are normally found on dogs.

However, when the skin barrier becomes damaged or the immune system is weakened, bacteria can overgrow, which leads to an infection. The skin becomes red and itchy because of inflammation or swelling as well as the infection.

It's rare for a healthy dog to develop a staph infection unless there’s a wound on their skin.

Puppies and adult dogs with chronic illnesses are more prone to staph infections because of their weakened immune systems. Also, dogs with pre-existing conditions that affect the skin barrier are very prone to getting staph infections. This includes dogs with environmental allergies, food allergies, hypothyroidism, or ectoparasites (demodex or fleas).

Mild staph infections are not considered an emergency and often heal with minimal treatment. However, severe staph infections can cover the entire body and also invade tissue under the skin to create a deep, potentially life-threatening infection. Severe infections should be considered a medical emergency.

Speak with your vet if your pup is displaying symptoms of a staph infection.

Symptoms of Staph Infections in Dogs

Superficial (skin-level) staph infections:

Deep staph infections can cause these additional symptoms:

Causes of Staph Infections in Dogs

Any medical condition that causes scratching, chewing, or licking of the skin can lead to development of a staph infection, but there are other causes as well.

Here is an extensive list:

  • Environmental allergy

  • Contact allergy

  • Food allergy

  • Fleas

  • Hypothyroidism

  • Demodectic mange (demodex)

  • Sarcoptic mange (scabies)

  • Urine scalding (direct contact with urine for a long period of time, causing the skin to become moist, leading to irritation and infection)

  • Matted coat

  • Open wound

  • Skin folds on a dog’s face or body

  • Obesity

  • Corkscrew tails

  • Hooded vulva

Any dog, no matter its age or breed, can develop a staph infection. However, certain breeds are at a higher risk.

Dog breeds with skin folds on their face or bodies—such as Pugs, English Bulldogs, Mastiffs, French Bulldogs, and Shar-Pei—are more vulnerable.

Additionally, the following breeds are more prone to environmental allergies:

Dogs with a compromised (weakened) immune system because of their age (less than 1 year old) or an underlying medical condition (cancer, immune-mediated disease) are also prone to staph infections.

How Veterinarians Diagnose Staph Infections in Dogs

Vets may diagnose a pup with a staph infection using:

  1. Skin cytology—A simple test where a piece of clear tape is gently put on a skin lesion and then removed. The tape is then stained and looked at under the microscope. The veterinarian will see round-shaped bacteria called cocci, which usually indicate a staph infection.

  2. Aerobic skin culture and sensitivity—The gold standard test for diagnosing a staph infection. The strain of bacteria is identified from a culture plate and tested against various antibiotics. These three strains of staphylococcal organisms can be very resistant to numerous antibiotics: Staphylococcus pseudintermedius (MRSP), S. aureus (MRSA), and S. schleiferi (MRSS).

Treatment of Staph Infections in Dogs

The treatment of a staph infection depends on location, severity, symptoms, how well the pet parent follows the treatment plan, and the dog’s tolerance to the treatment prescribed.


Topical therapy is usually prescribed first for treatment of a staph infection. It may include:

It’s important to ask your vet which topical therapy is best for your dog.


Oral antibiotics such as cephalexin, cefpodoxime, or clindamycin are prescribed by a vet when a skin infection is not responding to topical therapy alone, the staph infection is severe, or the infection is in areas that would be difficult to treat with topical therapy.

A dog’s itchiness also needs to be addressed when treating a staph infection. The two most effective and safest anti-itch treatment options are:

Recovery and Management of Staph Infections in Dogs

When treating a dog for a skin infection, it’s important to keep their coat and skin clean and dry. Avoid water activities, like swimming, as water will moisten your pup’s skin lesions. Your dog should also be kept mostly indoors in a clean environment.

 Most dogs usually recover within two to three weeks. However, deep or extensive staph infections can take four to six weeks to clear. Immunocompromised dogs—such as very young puppies or dogs with a chronic disease—can struggle with recovery. It may take longer for them to recover, or they may not.

Check your dog’s skin daily to be sure that the affected area is improving. If an antibiotic is prescribed, make sure not to miss any doses and do not stop giving it to your pup without your vet’s strict instruction.

A dog’s itchiness must also be managed with Cytopoint®, Apoquel®, and/or a recovery cone to prevent licking, scratching, and chewing.

Consult with your vet on when to schedule a recheck appointment to have your dog’s skin looked at again after starting treatment.

Prevention of Staph Infections in Dogs

Staph infections are not 100% preventable—staph naturally lives on a dog’s skin. However, here are steps that can be taken to lower the risk of a staph infection:

  1. Schedule an appointment with your vet if your dog is itchy, has skin lesions, or has an open wound.

  2. Bathe your dog when needed to keep the skin and coat clean. If your dog’s fur is prone to matting, brush the fur often or schedule professional grooming appointments regularly.

  3. Keep your dog’s skin folds clean.

  4. If your dog is overweight, consult with your vet to create a weight loss plan for your pup.

  5. Having a hooded vulva or corkscrew tail can sometimes be managed with topical therapy, though it may require surgery.

  6. If your dog has allergies, talk with your vet about how to best manage your pet’s allergy.

  7. Prevent urine scalding. Have your veterinarian figure out the cause for the urine scalding and discuss prevention and treatment methods.

Staph Infection in Dogs FAQs

Is staph in dogs contagious?

Yes, a staph infection can be shared from a dog to a person, another dog, or a cat, but it’s uncommon. Frequent hand washing and cleaning a dog’s crate and bedding can help prevent the spread of bacteria between other pets and people.

Immunocompromised family members should avoid touching a dog that has a staph infection until the infection has been treated.

Can you treat dog staph infections at home?

If there’s a skin lesion on your dog, it’s in your dog’s best interest to have their vet examine them to look at the skin lesion. Ringworm and yeast infections can look similar to staph infections.

Can a dog licking you give you a staph infection?

Yes, a dog diagnosed with MRSP, MRSA, or MRSS should not be allowed to lick a person’s face or any open wounds because this may lead to spread of the bacterial infection.

Featured Image: Emre Ceylan/iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images


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MRSA for Pet Owners. Worms and Germs blog. Updated September 28, 2008.


Michelle Diener, DVM


Michelle Diener, DVM


I live in Raleigh, North Carolina. I obtained by BS degree in Biology at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2000 and my DVM degree at NCSU in 2006. I have...

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