Most readers have heard of MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcal Aureus.) This “superbug” has been in the human medical news a lot, as several reports of deaths (often among younger athletes who contracted the bacterium from “work-out” facilities) have been reported. Yet it may surprise you the MRSA and related bacteria are increasing among pets as well. This article will teach you what you need to know about MRSA and how to deal with a MRSA pet infection.
MRSA is the acronym for Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcal Aureus. Staph aurues is a common human bacterium that can occur on pets as well (although pets, particularly dogs, are usually infected with a related Staph bacterium called Staph Pseudintermedius.) Methicillin is an antibiotic, but methicillin-resistant Staph are not killed by methiciliin or other antibiotics that typically are used to treat Staph. These methicillin-resistant Staph are considered “superbugs” because they can be hard to treat, take a long time to treat, often require treatment with very expensive antibiotics (and it’s become harder to find antibiotics that kill MRSA,) and as a result are more likely to be fatal then non-MRSA bugs. This means prevention, when possible, and early diagnosis and aggressive treatment are a must in order to protect your pet and yourself.
Staph aureus is a common human pathogen, and many people (estimates are 33% of people carry Staph in their nasal passages and 2% carry MRSA) carry the bacterium harmlessly in their nasal cavities. IF the bacteria leave the nasal cavity and infect another part of the body (as through a cut in the skin) they can quickly invade the bloodstream and cause septicemia, a deadly and often fatal infection of the entire body. In people this typically happens when handwashing is not done properly and the nasal MRSA is spread by touching another person or inanimate object that can then cause an infection when a susceptible person encounters the bacteria.
In pets, usually dogs, either Staph aureus (MRSA) or more commonly Staph intermedius (MRSI) infections can occur. Dogs and people can become infected through environmental contamination or by infecting each other (people can infect other people or dogs and dogs can infect other dogs or people.)
How Do I Know if My Dog Has MRSA?
Usually MRSA presents as a skin infection since most Staph infections in dogs tend to present with a dermatitis. Staph skin infections can appear in several forms. Typically small pustules (pimples) occur, although because they are fragile they easily rupture, leaving a red or dark inner circle surrounded by scale (a bull’s eye lesion.) Small red bumps, called papules, may also be present; these lesions most commonly occur on the less-haired areas of the body such as the abdomen and groin. In some dogs, typically shorter-haired breeds such as Labrador retrievers, they exhibit a moth-eaten appearance of partial areas of circular hair loss (alopecia) over their sides and their backs. Many dogs with Staph infections are itchy. Many dogs with (chronic) skin infections also have other diseases such as allergies and thyroid or adrenal dysfunction.
MRSA infections look just like “plain old” Staph infections, but there is an important difference. MRSA infections don’t get better when treated with antibiotics (or they improve but never really heal and continue to be present.) The only way to diagnose MRSA is through a skin culture. This can be done simply by swabbing the skin surface or through a skin biopsy (a biopsy is recommended for chronic skin disease, skin disease that doesn’t look typical, or if a culture of a skin swab is negative and MRSA is still suspected.)
I have also diagnosed some of these infections in the bladder and ears as well as the more common skin presentation.
How is MRSA Treated?
As a holistic veterinarian, I am encouraged that my traditional dermatology colleagues are finally recommending NOT using antibiotics for routine, simple skin infections. Instead they recommend frequent bathing with topical antimicrobial shampoos (but recommend not using injectable or oral antibiotics.) Research shows that simple, uncomplicated skin infections will heal without using oral antimicrobials if treated early and aggressively. Holistic veterinarians also use various herbs (astragalus, Echinacea,) for immune support and natural herbal antimicrobials (olive leaf, Oregon grape, etc.) to encourage quicker and longer-lasting healing.
Because MRSA is a tough bug to kill, and because it often develops when inappropriate and long term antibiotic treatment is used to treat any problem, specific antibiotics must be used, along with topical shampoos and herbal remedies, in order to kill MRSA. A sensitivity test, done alongside the skin culture, suggests which antibiotics MIGHT be helpful in killing MRSA. In general most antibiotics that are routinely used in veterinary practice are ineffective against MRSA. MRSA is typically only sensitive to expensive “human” antibiotics that must be given for 1-2 months or longer. Because MRSA can be fatal, especially in humans, it is recommended to save the “newer” more aggressive antibiotics for life-threatening infections in people and not use them to treat skin infections in pets.
Due to increased resistance to the Staph and because antibiotics must be used for extended periods in order to kill the Staph; probiotics should also be provided to the pet. Because the infection can be transmitted by objects, anything that pet has contacted such as blankets, pillows, or toys should be washed thoroughly and regularly.
Treatment is continued until the skin looks normal AND a repeat culture fails to identify the Staph bacterium. Ongoing care with regular bathing and herbs or homeopathics are used as dictated by each case.
The takeaway message is this:treat skin infections early and aggressively without using antibiotics except for serious infections. If the infection is not better the skin may need to be biopsied and cultured to confirm the diagnosis. Regardless of whether or not antibiotics are needed or are used, regular bathing and the use of immune-stimulating herbs and probiotics are essential.
Note-This photo shows one of the many faces of MRSA. This pet was diagnosed with “allergies and infection” but failed to improve until I properly diagnosed its MRSA infection.
As a holistic veterinarian, I know that vaccinations can be both helpful and harmful, depending upon their usage. While limited vaccinations will help establish immunity in our younger pets, repeated and unnecessary vaccinations can be harmful if the immune system acts inappropriately and harms the pet. This article will explore vaccine titers and offer support to those of you who choose this route for your pets.
Q:What exactly are titer tests?
Vaccine titer tests are simple blood tests that measure your pet’s antibodies to certain diseases. In most practices these disesaes include distemper, parvo, and hepatitis virus for dogs and rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia virus for cats. The titer is a mathematical number derived from testing your pet’s blood for antibodies against these disesaes. A positive titer means that your pet has antibodies against a specific disease (the titer usually results from prior vaccination to that disease or exposure to that disease) and indicates your pet is protected from disesaes from that virus. For example, a positive titer to distemper virus indicates your dog is protected from distemper virus.
Q:If my pet has a positive titer, will additional vaccines be harmful?
Giving additional vaccinations to a dog that has a positive titer will not offer more protection, is a waste of health care dollars, and could be harmful if the pet reacted inappropriately to an unnecessary vaccine. Positive titers indicate your pet is protected and vaccines can be skipped that year.
Q:My vet says titer tests are useless. Why would he say this?
I don’t really know why some doctors say this unless they are ignorant of basic immunology. Titer testing is used every day in veterinary practice to diagnose diseases such as heartworm disease and feline leukemia virus infection. Additionally, veterinarians who have been vaccinated against rabies virus routinely have their titers tested to determine if and when they might need to be revaccinated.
Q:Can I board or groom my pet if I choose titer testing in place of traditional vaccines?
Since boarding and grooming facilities, and doggie daycare businesses require vaccination, either recent vaccination or titer testing showing the pet is protected and not in need of additional vaccinations should be acceptable. Grooming and boarding facilities associated with a veterinary clinic usually will NOT accept titer results, whereas other facilities not associated with a veterinary clinic usually WILL accept either titers or vaccines. Check with the facility to be sure.
Q:What about rabies shots?
Rabies titer testing is done frequently in people as mentioned above. It is an acceptable method to determine protection against rabies in pets as well, and is required for international transportation. Unfortunately, most city, state, and county laws require frequent rabies vaccinations as they do not accept titer testing. Hopefully this will change someday. For now, vaccination for rabies done every 3 years is adequate as long as your pet is healthy.
Q:I’ve heard that titer testing is expensive. Is this true?
This depends. Some veterinarians, especially those who don’t routinely do titer testing, charge a lot for this testing I’ve seen some client invoices in my area for $200-400 for titer testing for dogs just for distemper and parvo virus. In my own practice, we do the titer testing for distemper, parvo, and hepatitis virus (3 titers rather than 2) PLUS the complete annual visit (which includes an examination, heartworm test, fecal test, and urinalysis) for under $200. If you visit a doctor who routinely does the testing, especially if it’s done in the doctor’s office, it is very reasonably priced.
Q:Is it better to do the titer testing in the doctor’s office or have him send the sample to an outside lab for testing?
By doing the testing “in-house,” the cost is greatly reduced and quality control is increased due to a smaller volume of patients being tested. That being said, outside labs can do titer testing nicely especially for busier practices that may not have time to do the testing in the office, but the pricing is likely to be higher when testing is done by an outside lab.
Q:When should titer testing be done?
There is no right or wrong answer to this question. Most holistic veterinarians do limited vaccines for their puppy and kitten patients, following a series of immunizations to ensure adequate protective immunity without “overdoing it” like traditional doctors. A limited booster series may be done 1 year following the final puppy or kitten visit, at approximately 18 months of age. Then titer testing is done the following year and continues annually for the life of the pet. Vaccines are given only when titer testing shows a need for them based upon the pet’s immunity.
Titer testing can also be done for stray pets or rescue/adopted pets for whom the vaccination history is not known. These pets can be immunized if needed based upon titer testing results.
Q:If I need to vaccinate my pet based upon titer testing results, when would the next titer test be done?
It would be done the following year when your pet’s annual visit occurs. It is expected that the titer test would be normal at that time, indicating protective immunity without the need for immunization. However, we don’t know that for sure so titer testing should be done annually following the booster immunization.
Q:Titer testing sounds great! Is there any downside to doing this testing?
Not really. However, no test is perfect. Titer testing does tell us a lot about the state of your pet’s immune system and its ability to prevent specific diseases. There is no guarantee that a titer will protect your pet, but there is also no guarantee a vaccine will protect your pet either. If your groomer or boarding facility does not accept titer results, you will either need to ove-rvaccinate your pet (not a good choice) or find another facility that is more open-minded and concerned with your pet’s health (a much better choice.)
A quick note on 2 recent memorable cases showing the strength of natural therapies…
Case #1-Corona, a young golden retriever with chronic allergies and skin infections. Because immune dysfunction, as well as adrenal and thyroid diseases can cause skin diseases, I tested her for these problems and she tested negative for thyroid and adrenal problems. I continued antibiotics (a new one she had never taken as she had been prescribed the same one for over a year!) while beginning a totally natural regimen to heal her skin, improve her immune system, and eventually replace her antibiotics with an herbal antimicrobial. She has been doing great since I first began treating her last year and has been antibiotic-free for almost 1 year, still taking her supplements which will not hurt her body (like her antibiotics did) and will improve her health.
Case #2-Teddy Bear, also a golden retriever, has chronic ear and skin problems. He too had been incorrectly and indiscriminately treated with many drugs, never getting better. Ear cytology showed a yeast infection. I treated him with immune support, natural anti-inflammatories, ear infusion with an anti-yeast medication, and oral natural anti-yeast and skin supporting herbs and supplements. After just 1 week with this regimen he is 80% better and is expected to make a complete recovery without lifelong medications!
Here are some tips on keeping your pet safe this July 4th from my colleagues at Texas A&M.
The 4th of July might be a day of celebration for people, but for pets it is a day of potentially hazardous situations. Dr. James Barr, clinical assistant professor for the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, explained that pets are at an increased risk for several dangerous scenarios during our holiday celebration.
“Most of the injuries or sicknesses that happen around the 4th of July in dogs have to do with an increased amount of outdoor activity,” Dr. James Barr said. “There are more dogfights, car accidents involving dogs and heat- related illnesses than any other time of the year.”
Barr also discourages owners from feeding table scraps to their pets. “Because dogs and cats have exposure to a lot more food from barbecues and parties, they tend to get upset stomachs from eating things they shouldn’t,” he said. Sometimes it is seen as humorous for owners to share an alcoholic beverage with their pet, but Barr includes alcohol on his list of dangers for pets on Independence Day. “Pets have much smaller bodies than we do and it can be quite dangerous to have them drink alcohol. It can even be fatal in severe circumstances,” he said.
If you plan on bringing Fido to an outdoor party, be cautious of the dangers of mosquitos, fleas and ticks. Spraying your pet with insect repellant may seem like a reasonable solution to the bug problem, but some sprays are not safe for animals. Instead, Barr recommends using an effective flea and tick repellant prescribed by your veterinarian. Since heartworms are transmitted to pets through mosquitos, a common summer nuisance, Barr also reminds owners to make sure their pet is taking heartworm preventative before they enjoy the holiday outdoors.
One of the most exciting traditions of the 4th of July holiday is fireworks. Although we might fall into a trance of admiration at the loud popping noises and flashing of colors in the sky, our pets might not enjoy the show so much. If your dog typically becomes frightened during thunderstorms, chances are it will react the same way to fireworks. “If your dog is frightened by the fireworks, you need to minimize the exposure that they have to the loud noise of the fireworks,” Barr said. This can be done by finding a safe and quiet room in your home where your dog can stay relaxed. If Fido is in attendance at your outdoor firework show, keep him or her on a leash to prevent it from running away or jumping a fence in an attempt to find safety. Remember, it is always important to properly identify your pet just in case it becomes lost.
Although Independence Day is a fun-filled holiday for people, it might not be the same case for our pets. As a pet owner, it is important to consider all dangerous situations your pet may experience during the holiday. If you are concerned about the dangers your pet may face and want to fully protect them, the simple solution is for Fido to sit this party out in the safety of your home.
Over the last few years doctors and veterinarians have increasingly faced shortages of medications. The FDA continues to create all sorts of problems as the drug shortages are continuing.
What this means is that it can takes weeks, months, or sometimes even years for distributors and manufacturers to be able to produce and ship medications for patients.
Over the last few years we’ve had trouble getting basic medications including prednisone and tetracycline. This summer I can’t get most of the medicated shampoos and certain antibiotics that I use for my patients with skin disease.
The good news is that being a holistic practice we use very few medications compared to conventional doctors. Still, there are times when I need to use medications, and having difficulty acquiring them poses an inconvenience to my clients and possibly a risk of a disease getting worse.
The other bad news is that with the shortage, prices naturally increase. In some cases the price increases are ridiculous, and I don’t even want to try to sell you the medications your pet needs. It’s often easier (but not often cheaper) for me to find a pharmacy that is able to get the medication I need and script it out to you.
Unfortunately I don’t foresee the problem improving as it’s only gotten much worse over the last few years. I will continue to do what we can to provide drug-free treatment to your pets and try to get whatever medications are necessary whenever your pet requires something stronger than natural medicines.
A few helpful tips on cancer in pets from my friends at Texas A&M….
With the month of May in full swing, so is Pet Cancer Awareness Month. All pets, regardless of size and breed, are at risk for developing cancer. However, there are certain breeds of dogs that have higher instances of the disease than others.
Certain breeds, such as golden retrievers, Rottweilers, and German shepherds are considered at-risk breeds and have a higher risk of getting cancer. According to the Veterinary Cancer Society, these breeds can have up to a 70-80 percent chance of getting cancer in their lifetime.
Of course, middle aged-older dogs are more likely to develop diseases such as cancer than younger dogs. “Just like in people, however, the earlier that cancer is detected, the greater chance there will be of achieving remission,” said Jaci Christensen, oncology veterinary technician at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.
One goal of Pet Cancer Awareness Month is to inform pet owners of symptoms to look for in their pet. The Veterinary Cancer Society suggests checking your pet regularly for signs such as swollen lymph nodes, sudden weight loss, enlarged lumps, vomiting, diarrhea, and lameness. If your dog or cat displays any of these warning signs, consult with your veterinarian as soon as you can.
If your veterinarian does find cancer, there are various treatment options including natural therapies. Once you know which type of cancer you’re fighting, the various treatment options can then be discussed with your veterinarian.
“Conventional cancer treatment in dogs and cats is similar to that of humans, including treatment options such as chemotherapy, radiation and surgery,” said Christensen. “However, surprisingly, chemotherapy’s side effects tend to be less severe in our pets than in humans.” Still there are many pets treated successfully without chemotherapy, and many cancers do not require chemotherapy. In my practice in Plano, Tx, all of my cancer patients are treated with natural medicines which typically adds 6-12 months of high quality life for the pet with cancer.
Veterinarians stress that wellness checks 6-12 months are key to cancer prevention. Early cancer testing with new blood profiles add to our ability to diagnose cancer at an early stage, making it more treatable. To ensure the cancer is detected in time, it is urged that pet owners take their pets to the veterinarian for blood work and biopsies if cancer is suspected.
Learning that your beloved pet has cancer is never easy, but discovering it early on ensures a better chance of survival and an increased quality of life. Although May is Pet Cancer Awareness month, spread the awareness of cancer’s prevalence amongst our four-legged friends all throughout the year, and be sure to check for signs both at home and during your regular visits to the veterinarian.
As you know, my colleague Dr. Ballard recently retired. We are honored to be able to offer the same high quality alternative medical care for all of her patients.
We have seen many of her patients and appreciate their commitment to helping their pets with a natural focus. Because we are seeing so many of her patients and our own, we ask you to be patient with us as we try to fit you into our schedule. We will do everything possible to see your pets at the earliest possibility.
We know that since her closing her practice it is not possible to get copies of your records. No worries as we will work with you to figure out what your pets need.
Like Dr. Ballard, we offer care using Chinese herbs and homeopathics. We also offer naturopathic care using Western herbs, acupuncture, cold laser, homotoxicology, autosanguis detoxification therapy, and unique protocols for patients suffering from chronic diseases including cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, allergies, arthritis, and endocrine/hormonal disorders including thyroid and adrenal diseases. Finally, we offer a complete line of unique nutritional supplements in the Dr. Shawn’s line of naturopathic products. We invite you to call us at 972-867-8800 ext 0 to set up an appointment so that we may continue the special care your pets have received from Dr. Ballard!
I’m often asked when is the best time to start naturopathic medicines. Should you start before, during, or after traditional therapies??
While starting therapy at the time of diagnosis is ideal (as the natural medicines can reduce side effects from and increase effectiveness of traditional cancer therapies,) the MOST important thing is to start natural therapies sometime! The goal is to enhance the immune system’s fighting abilities to keep the cancer in remission as long as possible and to make the pet feel better, giving it a high quality of life.
The second MOST important thing is to work with a holistic veterinarian to make sure you are using the correct proven therapies at the dosage that is best for your pet, and to pick natural supplements that don’t interact negatively with other therapies. In our practice we use only proven natural medicines and are guided by frequent blood testing, including our cancer/inflammatory profile. Your pet’s life is too important to guess and go it alone….and please don’t buy something on the internet just because a testimonial swears the product cures cancer..a definite no-no.
Breast Choices for the Best Chances: Your Breasts, Your Life, and How YOU Can Win The Battle!
With Easter upon us, I wanted to take a moment to remind all of you about the dangers of one of my favorite plants, the lily.
Most pet owners are unaware that ingestion of any part of a lily can be fatal for cats. This is of particular concern given the popularity of lilies in bouquets and gardens. Lilies in the “true lily” and daylily families such as Easter lilies, stargazer lilies, tiger lilies, Asiatic lilies, and Oriental lilies are highly toxic to cats. Ingestion of just one petal, leaf, or even the pollen, can cause kidney failure in less than three days.
The most dangerous lilies for cats are those in the genus Lilium (the “true lilies”) and Hemerocallis (daylilies). Common examples include the Easter lily (L. longiflorum), stargazer lily (L. orientalis), tiger lily (L. tigrinum or L. lancifolium), Asiatic hybrid lily (many varieties of Lilium spp.), wood lily (L. philadelphicum), and daylily (Hemerocallis spp.). The toxin, which only effects cats, has not been identified, but exposure to any part of the plant, including leaves, flowers, pollen, or even the water from the vase may result in acute kidney and rarely, pancreatitis. Lily poisoning is a true medical emergencie requiring immediate veterinary care. Early decontamination, aggressive intravenous fluid therapy, renal function tests, and supportive care greatly improve the cat’s prognosis. A delay of treatment of more than 18 hours after ingestion generally results in irreversible kidney failure. Due to the high risk of fatality, the Pet Poison Hotline recommends these flowers never be brought into homes with cats.
If a cat consumes any part of a lily plant, the pet owner should bring the cat and the plant to a veterinarian as soon as possible.Treatment for lily poisoning starts at around $1000 but easily escalates depending upon the degree of kidney failure and the pet’s response or lack of response. The best approach-while we love lillies DON’T bring them into a house of cats!