We understand – the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the words “staph infection” is nothing good. Staph infections run amok in human hospitals and are horribly contagious! Staph infections don’t respond to antibiotics! Staph infections can cause complications and people can die!
Fear not. Staph infections are one of the most common skin conditions veterinarians diagnose and are typically easy to treat.
Tucker is a 2-year-old yellow Lab that came to me when his owner noticed him chewing and licking at his feet and belly. It’d been going on for a few of days, but it didn’t seem to be a problem at first – Tucker was happy, playful, and eagerly anticipated every meal that became available. When his owner noticed a large rash on his stomach and patches of hair falling out, she decided it was time to get Tucker in to see me. It was spring time in Texas which meant Tucker frequented the dog parks and hiking trails when the weather was nice and Mother Nature was in bloom. While he was out and about enjoying the warm weather, he was on monthly flea and tick control in addition to his monthly heartworm preventative to control any pesky critters that were lurking along his hiking trail.
As expected, Tucker was bouncing around the exam room during his appointment searching for anyone who would love on him. When my technician and I were able to distract him long enough to roll over, we saw that his entire abdomen was covered in a red rash with several large bumps that looked like pimples. As the technician loved on him and gave him belly rubs, Tucker’s back leg immediately wanted to start scratching at his skin and he let out a big groan – he was extremely itchy. Once we finally got him settled down, the rest of his complete physical exam was normal. I explained to his owner that Tucker had all the classic signs of a staph infection. You could immediately see the worry in her eyes as she glanced at her two small children.
I went on to explain that staph infections can be extremely common in dogs, especially during the warmer months. We found no evidence of fleas, which meant his monthly preventative was effective; we also couldn’t find any other indication that he had any other skin conditions. I expected that Tucker was suffering from seasonal allergies that caused him to develop itchy skin. We humans get the runny nose and itchy, watery eyes. Our dog companions get itchy skin and typically focus on their abdomen, feet, and ears. As Tucker was chewing at his belly, his caused small breaks in the skin which creates a warm, damp environment. This is the perfect environment for the bacteria on our skin, which we live harmoniously with, to thrive and cause the rash and pimples. The caveat is that the pimples are also itchy, sometimes more than the allergy, which allows the vicious cycle to continue. Thankfully, staph infections are specific to the patient only and are not contagious to their human companions so we did not have to worry about his two small best friends loving on him.
Tucker was started on a course of antibiotics and an over-the-counter allergy medication to eliminate the infection and control his allergies. He continues his regular hikes and trips to the dog park for play time. He will occasionally develop another staph infection, especially when a new tree or plant pollen is high, but he is otherwise a happy, healthy Lab.