Evidence that the MRSA superbug, which kills 5,000 patients a year in British hospitals, is now claiming the lives of pets emerged this week, after an Edgware woman revealed that her dog died from the bacteria this summer.

Bella, a ten-year-old Samoyed dog, is believed to be one of the first recorded cases of a dog dying of MRSA in the UK. Her owner Jill Moss, 34, of Edgwarebury Lane, is now launching a campaign to educate pet owners and vets about the risks to animals.

Experts believe the spread of MRSA to animals is of concern, and are demanding more research into the risks, but also stress that the chances of the bug transferring to humans is small.

David Lloyd, professor of dermatology at the Royal Veterinary College, North Mymms, first documented MRSA in small animals in 1999 and researched the risks involved.

"MRSA has been building up gradually in the animal population," he said. "Although we have warned about it for some years, it was only recently people started to listen.

"We want to determine the risks of MRSA transmission and infection amongst owners and pets. At present we believe there is a small risk that dogs carrying MRSA could pass it on to their owners but it is unlikely that MRSA can sustain itself in healthy dogs and cats as it does in humans.

"If you have a weak immune system and the dog has MRSA there could be transfer, but this is rare. The bigger risk is that the human MRSA carrier will transfer MRSA to a sick pet."

The first recorded case of MRSA among dogs was in 1999 when 11 dogs were diagnosed, although none died.

Unlike one in three humans, animals do not normally carry the staphylococcus aureus (SA) bacteria which, when resistant to antibiotic treatment, is called MRSA.

Ms Moss believes that Bella may have picked up the infection while under the knife during a routine knee operation, although the veterinary surgery denies this. She is now asking for tighter guidelines for veterinary practices.

"Bella was my companion, buddy and confidante; what happened to her shouldn't happen to a dog," she said.

"I hope that Bella's story will alert dog owners to the risks that exist in veterinary clinics and hospitals," said Ms Moss. "It is not just the risk of contamination through surgery, but also the risk that MRSA does exist in animals and that, just like us, they can become colonised and be susceptible to further infection at any time."

Ms Moss has launched a web site this week to provide information on MRSA at www.pets-mrsa.com