Updated backgrounder: therapy dogs can acquire MRSA

Published on August 01, 2009
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Updates to a backgrounder on methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus incorporate recent research on colonization of therapy dogs that visit health care settings.

The AVMA and American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine backgrounder cites research that indicates the presence of MRSA in health care environments may put animals at risk of infection or colonization during their involvement in animal-assisted intervention programs and includes guidelines for handling animal-assisted intervention programs in health care settings.

One study cited in the backgrounder indicates that dogs that participated in animal-assisted programs in health care settings were six times as likely to acquire MRSA as were dogs that participated in non-health-care-related intervention programs.

The backgrounder also cites a separate study of 26 dog-handler teams in Ontario. Clostridium difficile and MRSA were not detected on the therapy dogs' forepaws or fur or on the hands of their handlers or the investigator prior to visiting long-term care facilities. Clostridium difficile was detected on one dog's paws following a visit to an acute care facility, and MRSA was detected on the hands of the investigator who petted a dog after it had visited a long-term care facility.

"These results suggest that therapy dogs may become infected with pathogens during their visits to health-care facilities and reinforces the importance of good hand hygiene before and after handling therapy animals," the backgrounder states.

The update includes information on a June 2009 report on MRSA in livestock, pets, and food. The joint report by the European Food Safety Authority, the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, and the European Medicines Agency concluded it is most effective to control MRSA transmission on the farm.

The report advocates for judicious use of antimicrobials in animals and for avoiding use in animals of medicines of last resort for treatment of MRSA in humans.

The MRSA backgrounder is available here.