Stories tagged infection


If you ask any veterinarian or human general practitioner what is one of the most common reasons for a visit, the answer is sure to be some type of skin problem. Think about it. The skin is the largest organ in both the human and dog body, and it is designed to protect the body against all sorts of intruders, including germs or minor injuries.

Skin ailments also lead to a sense of frustration as there are hundreds of causes in both pets and humans. Something such as canine acne or human acne can be the result of an underlying disease, or something as simple as oils from the skin becoming trapped. The more visible the problem, the more likely we are to rush for medical care.

All of us, human and pet alike, have skin the is structured the same way. There is an outer layer, called the epidermis the next layer, called simply the dermis, and an under layer of fat and muscle which is called the punniculus. Together, the two top layers form the cutis, with the panniculus called for obvious reasons the subcutis.

Even thought the epidermis is charged with protecting us from disease, it is relatively thin. It is comprised of building blocks called keratinocytes. Knowing this you can now appreciate that when your skin is scraped or a wound is formed, it leaves the body open to those things that are normally blocked by the outer skin layer. These mechanisms are the same in pets and humans. This is probably why nature saw to it that this skin layer quickly repairs itself. If an area is constantly injured, the repair thickens to provide extra protection for the area.

When infection does try and take hold, a type of cell called a langerhan cell calls in reinforcements from the white blood cells to kill off any bacteria fungus or viral infection. Skin reactions often occur when these cells work too well, and begin to react to every day things in the environment such as plants, shampoo, fabric etc. This immune response results in an allergy to these items, cause some type of skin reaction.

Last, is the issue of sunburn. The mechanism for this is called the photoprotective barrier. In nature, dogs and cats developed coats to limit the amount of sun exposure, particularly since they lived outdoors in the wild. In humans we've adapted though sunscreens, hats, clothing and by staying out of the sun. Our pets can get sunburned just like humans, with the same amount of risk.

Skin tumors in humans and pets are the result of basal cells, the layer of cells between the dermis and epidermis receiving too much sun exposure. This causes these cells to rapidly divide, resulting in a neoplasm or dog skin tumor.

One major difference between humans and our dogs are the hair follicles, as you could have guessed. Interestingly, while humans have one hair per follicle per pore opening, dogs and cats have multiple hairs. These hairs also act to spread pheromones, which help to drive sexual attraction. The hair is also a window into the underlying health of the pet or person, with hair loss in dogs often indicating some type of endocrine related disease (hormonal disease).

Our skin is unique because it is so visible. It is also difficult to diagnose because of the many causes of dog skin and human skin disease. It's also a unique organ in that dog owners and humans alike demand that it be maintained in perfect condition, a high bar for any natural organ. What's wonderful, is that our understanding of skin structure in humans, and treatment approaches, directly applies to with way we address skin problems in dogs and cats.


Dog Skin Conditions, Dog Health Guide


Not to freak y'all out, but did you know that germs are on everything you touch? Using a special powder called Glo Germ (get it here) you can actually see how germs spread from one thing to another. It will make you want to wash your hands more often. (And the CDC recommends washing your hands frequently. In fact, why don't you go wash up right now?)

Scrub 'em: Use soap and water, and wash for 20 seconds. That's about the time it takes to sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice.
Scrub 'em: Use soap and water, and wash for 20 seconds. That's about the time it takes to sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice.Courtesy mitikusa

Goal: to observe how germs are spread
Age level:: 3 and above
Activity time: 2 - 5 minutes
Prep time: 5 minutes

Materials needed:

  • Glo Germ powder
  • Toys or common household/school/office objects to "spike" with germs
  • UV lamp or detector box


  1. Sprinkle Glo Germ powder on your objects.
  2. Arrange them somewhere where others can handle them.
  3. Plug in UV lamp, but don't turn it on.

Encourage others to pick up and play with the objects. Ask them what they know about germs.

  • Do you know where microbes are found?
  • Do you know what a microbe/germ is?
  • Do you know what illnesses are caused by germs?
  • Do you know the best way to avoid getting sick because of germs?

After the discussion, tell them that, as part of an experiment, you've put "pretend" germs on one or some of the objects they may have touched today. Switch on the UV lamp: what glows?

Reinforce the fat that the Glo Germ powder is just to simulate germs. It won't make you sick. You can get rid of the germs by washing your hands. In fact, encourage your audience to wash their hands and then hold them under the UV light again.

(On the other hand, remember that not all germs are bad. Exposure to some germs is thought to protect people against asthma and allergies or colitis, and overuse of antibacterial products leads to antibiotic resistance and superbugs as well as potential damage to the environment.)


Staphylococcus aureus: There are some other photos of staph out there, but they all seem to involve a ton of pus.     (Photo by Estherase on
Staphylococcus aureus: There are some other photos of staph out there, but they all seem to involve a ton of pus. (Photo by Estherase on Esther Simpson
Hand washing, nose picking, good hygiene, we all know about this stuff right? Do it, do it in the sanitary privacy of your bathroom, and do it, respectively. Dirty hands spread germs, and germs spread infections – we know this, and, consequently, are as clean as a nation of whistles. Or are we?

I recently catalogued ten everyday and seemingly harmless activities that I do, and then researched their hygienic ups and downs. I urge you to follow along, see which activities you do, and then tally up your hygiene score. I think you might be surprised…

1) Put dirty laundry in the washing machine.
2) Prepare a ham sandwich.
3) Give/receive a high-five.
4) Turn on a light switch.
5) Wash your hands.
6) Clean the cat box using only your fingers.
7) Touch a friend’s face.
8) Pet the dog.
9) Hold hands with a stranger.
10) Become hospitalized.

Okay. Now, being honest, figure out your score using this key:
1) –3, 2) –1, 3) –6, 4) –5, 5) +10, 6) –15, 7) –9, 8) –4, 9) –11, 10) –31.

And, remember, if you’ve washed your hands more than once, you get points for each time. Also, if you have, say, cleaned more than one cat box with just your fingers, take away fifteen points for each time.

So… how did you score? Uh huh, I thought so.

The score for the last item, becoming hospitalized, may be something of a surprise to you. However, a recent article in The New York Times has highlighted the huge difference that increased sanitary conditions makes in cutting infection rates. Simple things like more frequent hand washing, glove wearing, and better isolating patients known to carry certain pathogens has cut infection rates in hospitals as much as 78 percent.

It seems obvious enough, although some hospital administrators are hesitant to commit to change, fearing the increased costs associated with some procedures, and citing the fact that isolated patients often receive less attention from hospital staff, and are more likely to suffer from falls, bedsores, and increased stress.

Dealing with infections acquired in the hospital, on the other hand, can be dangerous and extremely expensive. One of the main culprits is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. MRSA can be carried into hospitals by patients who demonstrate no symptoms, and can be passed by unwashed hands. If MRSA gets into a wound, it can cause anything from a painful sore to a fatal infection. By screening patients as they enter care, though, MRSA has been all but eliminated in countries like The Netherlands and Finland. Some states in the US are required to test certain high-risk patients for bacterium like MRSA, but very few hospitals screen all incoming patients.

Should the government require hospitals to screen all patients for MRSA? It’s not cheap, but it would save lives and probably money in the long run.
And could you possible think of a better way to clean the litter box than my tried-and-true bare hands method? Honestly?


Do you eat food that has fallen on the floor? Do you follow the five second rule? Scientists at Clemson University have extended the studies of Jillian Clarke, a high-school intern at the University of Illinois in 2003, on this topic. Their results are reported in the Journal of Applied Microbiology and summarized in a recent NY times article.

They conducted three experiments to determine the survival and transfer of Salmonella bacteria from wood, tile or carpet to bologna (sausage) and bread.

They found:
• Salmonella bacteria can survive for up to 4 weeks on dry surfaces in high-enough populations to be transferred to foods
• Salmonella bacteria can be transferred to the foods tested almost immediately on contact.

This study demonstrated the ability of bacteria to survive and cross-contaminate other foods even after long periods of time on dry surfaces, thus reinforcing the importance of sanitation on food contact to minimize the risk of foodborne illness.

So what do you do?