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Incidence of acquisition of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium difficile, and other health-care–associated pathogens by dogs that participate in animal-assisted interventions

Sandra L. Lefebvre DVM, PhD1, Richard J. Reid-Smith DVM, DVSc2, David Waltner-Toews DVM, PhD3, and J. Scott Weese DVM, DVSc, DACVIM4
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  • 1 Department of Population Medicine, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON N1G 2W1, Canada.
  • | 2 Department of Population Medicine, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON N1G 2W1, Canada; and the Laboratory for Foodborne Zoonoses, Public Health Agency of Canada, 110 Stone Rd W, Guelph, ON N1G 3W4, Canada.
  • | 3 Department of Population Medicine, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON N1G 2W1, Canada.
  • | 4 Department of Population Medicine and Pathobiology, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON N1G 2W1, Canada.

Abstract

Objective—To determine whether dogs that visited human health-care facilities were at greater risk of acquiring certain health-care–associated pathogens, compared with dogs performing animal-assisted interventions in other settings, and to identify specific behaviors of dogs associated with an increased risk of acquiring these pathogens.

Design—Prospective cohort and nested case-control studies.

Animals—96 dogs that visited human health-care facilities and 98 dogs involved in other animal-assisted interventions.

Procedures—Fecal samples and nasal swab specimens were collected from dogs at the time of recruitment and every 2 months for 1 year and were tested for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Clostridium difficile, and other selected bacteria. Information was also obtained on facilities visited during animal-assisted interventions, dog diet, dog illnesses, and antimicrobial use within the home. At the end of the study, dog handlers were asked about the behavior of their dogs during visits to health-care facilities.

Results—Rates of acquisition of MRSA and C difficile were 4.7 and 2.4 times as high, respectively, among dogs that visited human health-care facilities, compared with rates among dogs involved in other animal-assisted interventions. Among dogs that visited human health-care facilities, those that licked patients or accepted treats during visits were more likely to be positive for MRSA and C difficile than were dogs that did not lick patients or accept treats.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Results suggested that dogs that visited human health-care facilities were at risk of acquiring MRSA and C difficile, particularly when they licked patients or accepted treats during visits.

Abstract

Objective—To determine whether dogs that visited human health-care facilities were at greater risk of acquiring certain health-care–associated pathogens, compared with dogs performing animal-assisted interventions in other settings, and to identify specific behaviors of dogs associated with an increased risk of acquiring these pathogens.

Design—Prospective cohort and nested case-control studies.

Animals—96 dogs that visited human health-care facilities and 98 dogs involved in other animal-assisted interventions.

Procedures—Fecal samples and nasal swab specimens were collected from dogs at the time of recruitment and every 2 months for 1 year and were tested for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Clostridium difficile, and other selected bacteria. Information was also obtained on facilities visited during animal-assisted interventions, dog diet, dog illnesses, and antimicrobial use within the home. At the end of the study, dog handlers were asked about the behavior of their dogs during visits to health-care facilities.

Results—Rates of acquisition of MRSA and C difficile were 4.7 and 2.4 times as high, respectively, among dogs that visited human health-care facilities, compared with rates among dogs involved in other animal-assisted interventions. Among dogs that visited human health-care facilities, those that licked patients or accepted treats during visits were more likely to be positive for MRSA and C difficile than were dogs that did not lick patients or accept treats.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Results suggested that dogs that visited human health-care facilities were at risk of acquiring MRSA and C difficile, particularly when they licked patients or accepted treats during visits.

Contributor Notes

Dr. Lefebvre's present address is AVMA, 1931 N Meacham Rd, Schaumburg, IL 60173.

Supported by grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Pet Trust Fund of the Ontario Veterinary College.

Presented in part at the 1st International Conference on MRSA in Animals, Liverpool, England, June 2006; the International Meeting on Emerging Diseases and Surveillance, Vienna, February 2007; the 107th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, Toronto, May 2007; and the 2nd International Clostridium difficile Symposium, Maribor, Slovenia, June 2007.

The authors thank Nicol Janecko, Joyce Rousseau, and Dr. Patrick Boerlin for overseeing laboratory testing; Gabhan Chalmers, Lilla Yan, and Catherine Sabino for technical assistance; and William Sears for statistical assistance.

Address correspondence to Dr. Weese.