Puppy Licks to a Woman's Feet May Have Caused Serious Skin Infection

A dog is licking a person's foot.
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Dogs can bring a person happiness, love, laughter ... and sometimes strange infections. Case in point: A woman in Israel was diagnosed with a bacterial infection that she likely contracted from innocent puppy licks, according to a new report.

Last year, the 86-year-old woman went to the hospital with a fever, nausea, vomiting and pain in her right leg. She was wheelchair-bound and being treated for diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, according to the report, published Dec. 2 in The Journal of Emergency Medicine

At the hospital, the doctors found that she had a fever, a high heart rate and signs of cellulitis on her right ankle and lower leg. Cellulitis is a common skin infection caused by bacteria that can lead to a reddening of the skin, swelling and tenderness. The doctors also noticed that the woman had some cuts and abrasions in the skin between her toes.

Related: 11 Ways Your Beloved Pet May Make You Sick

Analysis of her blood revealed that she was infected with Streptococcus canis, a bacterium that can be transferred to humans from other animals, especially dogs. However, human infections with S. canis are very rare overall, with few cases reported in the medical literature, the authors said.

While cellulitis is common in people, it's typically caused by other kinds of bacteria (and not S. canis), said lead author Dr. Zohar Lederman, who was a physician at the Assuta Samson University Hospital in Israel at the time. 

In this case, the woman noted that she owned a few puppies that frequently licked her feet, according to the report. It's "highly likely" that the puppies infected her with this bacteria, but it's not certain because the authors didn't take samples from the pets, Lederman said.

It's very uncommon for such bacteria in pet licks to cause an infection in people. "Think about all the times people all over the world receive licks from their pets and do not get sick," Lederman said. 

In order for a person to be infected, the bacteria has to access a deeper layer than the epidermis, the top layer of the skin. "This most often happens because of dryness of the skin that creates small lesions," he said. What's more, in this case, the woman had not only cracks in her skin but also a weakened immune system because of the medication that she took for rheumatoid arthritis. Also, her puppies happened to carry this bacteria, he added.

A couple days after being treated with antibiotics, the woman improved and was discharged "under stable conditions," Lederman said. The researchers published this case study to raise awareness of the potential diseases have to jump from animals to people. "Physicians should collaborate then with veterinarians in caring for humans and animals," they wrote.

Originally published on Live Science.

Yasemin Saplakoglu
Staff Writer

Yasemin is a staff writer at Live Science, covering health, neuroscience and biology. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Science and the San Jose Mercury News. She has a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Connecticut and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.