Warning: New Research Indicates That Your Pet Dog or Cat Could Be Spreading Deadly Superbugs

Superbug Illustration

New research reveals that pet dogs and cats are significant carriers of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, facilitating the spread to humans. The study, which analyzed samples from pets and owners in Portugal and the UK, found evidence of direct transmission of multidrug-resistant bacteria, underscoring the need for comprehensive monitoring and improved hygiene practices in pet-owning households.

Pet dogs and cats in Portugal and the UK were found to harbor the same antibiotic-resistant bacteria as their owners.

New research to be presented at the ESCMID Global Congress in Barcelona, Spain, from April 27 to April 30, indicates that pet dogs and cats significantly contribute to the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The study has found evidence of multidrug-resistant bacteria being passed between sick cats and dogs and their healthy owners in Portugal and the UK, raising concerns that pets can act as reservoirs of resistance and so aid in the spread of resistance to vital medicines.

Antibiotic resistance is reaching dangerously high levels around the world. Drug-resistant infections kill more than 1.2 million people a year globally and, with the figure projected to rise to 10 million by 2050 if no action is taken, the World Health Organization (WHO) classes antibiotic resistance as one of the greatest public health threats facing humanity.

Study Details and Findings

“Recent research indicates that the transmission of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) bacteria between humans and animals, including pets, is crucial in maintaining resistance levels, challenging the traditional belief that humans are the main carriers of AMR bacteria in the community,” says lead researcher Juliana Menezes, of the Antibiotic Resistance Lab at the Centre of Interdisciplinary Research in Animal Health, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Lisbon.

“Understanding and addressing the transmission of AMR bacteria from pets to humans is essential for effectively combating antimicrobial resistance in both human and animal populations.”

Ms. Menezes and colleagues tested fecal and urine samples and skin swabs from dogs and cats and their owners for Enterobacterales (a large family of bacteria which includes E. coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae) resistant to common antibiotics.

They focused on bacteria resistant to third-generation cephalosporins (used to treat a broad range of conditions, including meningitis, pneumonia, and sepsis, they are classed among the most critically important antibiotics for human medicine by the World Health Organisation) and carbapenems (part of the last line of defense when other antibiotics have failed). The prospective longitudinal study involved five cats, 38 dogs, and 78 humans from 43 households in Portugal and 22 dogs and 56 humans from 22 households in the UK.

All of the humans were healthy. All of the pets had skin and soft tissue infections (SSTI) or urinary tract infections (UTI).

Evidence of Transmission Between Pets and Humans

In Portugal, one dog (1/43 pets, 2.3%) was colonized by an OXA-181-producing multidrug-resistant Escherichia coli strain. OXA-181 is an enzyme that confers resistance to carbapenems.

Three cats and 21 dogs (24/43 pets, 55.8%) and 28 owners (28/78 owners, 35.9%) harbored ESBL/Amp-C producing Enterobacterales. These are resistant to third-generation cephalosporins.

In five households, one home with a cat and four with dogs, both pet and owner were carrying ESBL/AmpC-producing bacteria. Genetic analysis showed the strains to be the same, indicating that the bacteria passed between the pet and the owner. In one of these five households, a dog and owner also had the same strain of antibiotic-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae.

In the UK, one dog (1/22 pets,14.3%) was colonized by two strains of multidrug-resistant E. coli producing NDM-5 beta-lactamase. These E. coli were resistant to third-generation cephalosporins, carbapenems, and several other families of antibiotics. ESBL/AmpC-producing Enterobacterales were isolated from eight dogs (8/22 pets, 36.4%) and three owners (3/24 owners, 12.5%).

In two households, both the dog and the owner were carrying the same ESBL/AmpC-producing bacteria. It wasn’t possible to prove the direction of transmission, however, in three of the homes in Portugal, the timing of the positive tests for the ESBL/AmpC-producing bacteria strongly suggests that, in these cases at least, the bacteria were being passed from pet (two dogs and one cat) to human.

Recommendations and Conclusions

Ms Menezes, a PhD student, says: “Our findings underline the importance of including pet-owning households in national programs that monitor levels of antibiotic resistance. Learning more about the resistance in pets would aid in the development of informed and targeted interventions to safeguard both animal and human health.”

Bacteria can be passed between pets and humans by petting, touching, or kissing and through the handling of feces. To prevent transmission, the researchers recommend owners practice good hygiene, including washing their hands after petting their dog or cat and after handling their waste.

“When your pet is unwell, consider isolating them in one room to prevent the spread of bacteria throughout the house and clean the other rooms thoroughly,” adds Ms Menezes.

All of the dogs and cats were successfully treated for their infections. The owners did not have infections and so did not need treatment.

Meeting: ESCMID Global (ECCMID 2024)

5 Comments on "Warning: New Research Indicates That Your Pet Dog or Cat Could Be Spreading Deadly Superbugs"

  1. Very informative, those of us who study Microbiology AND own pets.

  2. Corwin Howard Morton lll | April 15, 2024 at 6:04 pm | Reply

    I read your article and I found it very interesting however one thing that you do not cover and it should be considered and perhaps covered at no charge or at very little charge would be the elderly and disabled that have pets such as cats or dogs in my case a cat. These need to have services that will come out to their housing abodes to help with checkups and whatever else that is needed, for those that cannot get out to and afford pet grooming services.

  3. Open environment in rural past was a valid reason to keep pets with no health risk to owners that makes sense, but urban overpopulated environment is artificial to do so.

  4. Kimberly Moffatt | April 16, 2024 at 9:34 am | Reply

    I think I may have what your article is talking about as well as my cat. I can not find Anyone to treat me or even listen to me as well as treat my cat. My daught had me 302d for 14 days I’ve used permethrin cream, lice shampoo scrubbed my apt as well as myself n my cat but still am infected with something, I’ve taken numerous antibiotics and nothing had cleared it up these bugs are very small n clear with little dots on them I can’t even begin to describe what I have / and am going thru each day I am ready to loose my mind. Can someone give me a name of a Dr. That I can contact n go see please I am at the end of my rope. Thanks

  5. I’m not sure where this comment is going, what country I mean but I am from United States and I have been sick with an infectious disease for several several years now all the test that have been done always come back same thing nothing of course nothing has ever been sent to a specialty lab I keep lesion on face just to many things to begin but I would love to get some real please if at all possible please some way get me help

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