Staph Dermatitis: “That’s Really Bad! Right?” | Groomer to Groomer

Derm Connection

Staph Dermatitis: “That’s Really Bad! Right?”

As concerning as it sounds, Staph Dermatitis may not seem like such a bad thing once you understand the science.

First, Staph Dermatitis is quite a common diagnosis, but is often a “guess” by the veterinarian versus a prognosis based on a lab test. To truly diagnose Staph Dermatitis, a culture and sensitivity test are required because we need to know exactly what bacteria or fungus (different test) we are up against. Therefore, all too often this is an educated guess based on Staph being the most common bacteria present on the skin.

The most common Staph that we find present on the skin of dogs and cats are Staphylococcus pseudointermedius and Staphylococcus schleiferi. These are a different species than the Staphylococcus aureus, which is more common in humans. These bacteria are considered normal flora of the skin which means they are present even on healthy skin. So, why did the vet say the dog has an infection if they are normal? 

The Staph, as well as yeast/fungus (common to the skin), are what we refer to as opportunistic organisms. This means they will tend to overgrow (cause an infection) if they are given the right conditions or environment. Instead of Staph Dermatitis being a disease, it is a symptom or secondary issue. 

It is especially important to realize that the bacteria and fungus of the skin are in competition. If you wipe out one of these, then you get the other. Antibiotics (like penicillin) are often substances that are produced by yeast or fungi to repel or suppress bacteria. When we use antibiotics, a perfect environment is created to promote the growth of yeast and fungus. Without utilizing this science, many veterinarians and doctors will switch antibiotics if the skin does not respond without considering that we may already have a secondary yeast or fungus infection. This practice also contributes to the Staph mutating and becoming drug– resistant, forming MRSA (Methicillin–resistant Staph aureus), or for dogs, MRSP (Methicillin–resistant Staph pseudointermedius). We often refer to these as MRSA infections, but that is not the correct terminology when referring to dogs and cats. 

If we understand that bacterial and fungal infections are secondary, then that should prompt us to rethink our approach. By just treating the infection, we are merely treating a symptom, but not really addressing the true disease. Often the disease associated with skin issues can be vague and extremely hard to delineate, which is why we have so many frustrating cases. There are no precise tests to show why the skin is an issue, so commonly we are faced with the diagnosis of “sick skin with secondary infection” for lack of anything more concrete. Though this does gives us an operating plan, whether veterinarian or groomer. 

We have two things to accomplish; 1) we need to get rid of the infection, and 2) we need to return the skin to healthy again. If antibiotics and antifungals can create problems, then maybe we should take a different approach. If nutrition and medication struggle to cross the watertight skin barrier, then maybe that is not the approach to use either. Instead, let us go straight to the source of the problem…the skin. 

A topical approach makes the most sense to be able to change the environment quickly, but we need to tackle it in such a way that we help fix the “sick skin”. There are several products on the market that claim to be antibacterial and antifungal. But the question is, how will they leave the skin after application? We must also realize that we will struggle if there are things occurring internally in the pet that are perpetuating the problem, which would be the veterinarian’s responsibility.

Skin is a living organism, so it needs the basics of life: food, water, protection and oxygen. If we remove any of these or fail to replace them in the process, then the skin will struggle to heal. The disease process itself will often deplete these necessities and will require them to be replaced to get back to a normal status.

The basis of shampooing (a stripping process) promotes the process of healing with “the solution to pollution is dilution.” By decreasing the bacteria or fungal levels, we can give the body a fighting chance. The problem with just shampooing is, unless you are using an antifungal or antibacterial type of shampoo, its only benefit is dilution. The main reason the body has not already healed itself is because it is overwhelmed, therefor just diluting does not suffice.

One of the keys to success involves using a shampoo or combination of shampoos designed to suppress or kill both the bacteria and the fungus (taking care of both competitors), allowing the body to catch up. Next, and very importantly, we need to follow that with a conditioner that replaces those essential requirements to bring the skin back to good health after the infection subsides.

It is important to remember that these types of infections do not usually occur overnight, so they will not go away overnight. Bacteria is much easier to eliminate (sometimes a couple of hours to days), but fungus on the other hand is slow to grow and slow to get rid of. They are in competition with one another so we need to plan our restoration of the skin on a six– to eight–week timeframe to get rid of the fungus. Another important key to success is bathing the pet frequently enough to never allow the infection or the skin debris to return (“solution to pollution”), which usually means bathing them once or twice a week.

The trap that many of us fall into is, after three weeks when they look significantly better, we quit, thinking we are done. But the real proof is what happens two weeks to two months after we quit.

Many clients, groomers and veterinarians think there is too much involved, or that it is too costly, and try to short–cycle the treatment process by cutting something out (conditioner, time, frequency, etc.). The results are usually the same…failure! 

The science is what the science is. And by following a solid scientific protocol, we will greatly enhance the success rate. ✂️

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Dr. Cliff Faver

Dr. Cliff Faver graduated with a BS in Biology/BA in Chemistry before getting a Veterinary degree in 1987. He is the past owner of Animal Health Services in Cave Creek, Arizona and now the US distributor for Iv San Bernard products, teaches the ISB Pet Aesthetician Certification program, and speaks internationally on hair and skin. His passion is to merge groomers and veterinarians to aid in helping and healing pets. He is also a member of AVMA, AAHA, AZVMA, Board member with Burbank Kennel Club, and has served on Novartis Lead Committee, Hill’s International Global Veterinary Board, and a Veterinary Management Group.

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