Pets Can Spread Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria to Owners

A new study presented at the ESCMID Global Congress in Barcelona, Spain, suggests that pet dogs and cats play a significant role in spreading antibiotic-resistant bacteria to their owners. The research found evidence of multidrug-resistant bacteria being passed between sick cats and dogs and their healthy owners in Portugal and the UK.

Lead researcher Juliana Menezes from the University of Lisbon says, “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.”

Testing for Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria

The researchers tested fecal and urine samples and skin swabs from dogs, cats, and their owners for Enterobacterales, a large family of bacteria that includes E. coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae. They focused on bacteria resistant to third-generation cephalosporins and carbapenems, which are critically important antibiotics for human medicine.

The study involved five cats, 38 dogs, and 78 humans from 43 households in Portugal, as well as 22 dogs and 56 humans from 22 households in the UK. All the humans were healthy, while the pets had skin and soft tissue infections or urinary tract infections.

Results and Implications

In Portugal, the researchers found that one dog was carrying a multidrug-resistant E. coli strain, while 24 pets and 28 owners had bacteria resistant to third-generation cephalosporins. In five households, both pet and owner were carrying the same antibiotic-resistant bacteria, indicating transmission between them.

In the UK, one dog was found to have two strains of multidrug-resistant E. coli, while eight dogs and three owners had bacteria resistant to third-generation cephalosporins. In two households, both dog and owner were carrying the same antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

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

To prevent transmission, the researchers recommend that owners practice good hygiene, such as washing their hands after petting their dog or cat and handling their waste. They also suggest isolating sick pets in one room to prevent the spread of bacteria throughout the house.



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