Cats and dogs transmit antibiotic-resistant superbugs to owners, study finds

Research emphasises the need to include pets in efforts to combat antimicrobial resistance

Pets and their owners may be sharing antibiotic-resistant bacteria, emphasising the need for good hygiene practices and including pets in antimicrobial resistance assessments. PA
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Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are being transmitted between pet dogs and cats and their owners.

A joint UK-Portuguese study, which will be presented at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases in Denmark, found that six pets in Portugal and one in the UK were carrying antibiotic-resistant bacteria similar to those found in their owners.

This highlights the importance of incorporating pet-owning households into efforts to reduce the spread of antimicrobial resistance.

Antibiotic resistance has reached dangerously high levels worldwide, with drug-resistant infections causing an estimated 700,000 deaths per year.

The World Health Organisation has classified antibiotic resistance as one of the greatest public health threats facing humanity, with the number of deaths expected to rise to 10 million by 2050 if no action is taken.

Researchers Juliana Menezes and colleagues from the Antibiotic Resistance Lab at the Centre of Interdisciplinary Research in Animal Health, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Lisbon, Portugal, aimed to determine if pets treated with antibiotics for infections were sharing antibiotic-resistant pathogens with their owners.

The team collected and analysed fecal samples from dogs, cats and their owners for Enterobacterales, a large family of bacteria that includes E. coli and Klebsiella pneumonias, which are resistant to common antibiotics.

The study emphasized the importance of including pets in efforts to combat antibiotic resistance. AFP

The study involved 43 households in Portugal, with five cats, 38 dogs and 78 humans, and seven households in the UK, with seven dogs and eight humans.

In Portugal, 24 pets and 28 owners were found to harbour bacteria resistant to third-generation cephalosporins, critically important antibiotics for human medicine.

In eight households, both pets and owners were carrying the resistant bacteria, with DNA analysis suggesting that the bacteria were probably passed between the animals and humans. However, the direction of transfer remains unclear.

In the UK, similar findings were observed, with one dog and its owner carrying bacteria resistant to third-generation cephalosporins, carbapenems, and several other families of antibiotics.

“In this study, we provide evidence that bacteria resistant to third-generation cephalosporins, critically important antibiotics, are being passed from pets to their owners," said Juliana Menezes, a doctorate student.

Ms Menezes emphasised the importance of including pets in assessments of antimicrobial resistance and suggested that pet owners can reduce the spread of multidrug-resistant bacteria by practicing good hygiene, such as washing their hands after collecting their pet's waste and even after petting them.

This research underscores the need for a comprehensive approach to combat antibiotic resistance that not only involves human healthcare but also includes our pets.

By understanding the pathways through which antibiotic-resistant bacteria are transmitted, more effective strategies can be developed to slow the spread of these superbugs and protect both human and animal health.

Updated: April 17, 2023, 8:38 AM

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