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Can Dogs Get Clostridium Difficile?

Clostridium Difficile in Dogs

At some point, dog owners may wonder "Can dogs get Clostridium difficile?" And if so, what is the Clostridium difficile treatment for dogs? Clostridium difficile is known for affecting humans, especially when they are taking high doses of antibiotics or for prolonged periods of time. In this case, clostridium difficile occurs because of overgrowth of bad bacteria in the colon, as a result of the healthy bacteria being destroyed by the antibiotics. But what about dogs? How do dogs get clostridium difficile? Veterinarian Dr. Ivana Vukasinovic provides some more information on clostridium difficile in dogs.

 C. difficile colonies on a blood agar plate

C. difficile colonies on a blood agar plate

About the Bacteria

By Dr. Ivana Vukasinovic

Bacteria Clostridium difficile (C.diff for short, or sometimes even CDF) can be found in soil, water and human and animal faces. It is ubiquitous in nature (it can be found everywhere, especially in soil).

Clostridium difficile is an anaerobic spore-forming gram positive bacteria that causes inflammation of the large bowel known as colitis or Clostridium difficile infection, shortened as CDI, and previously referred to as C. difficile - associated diarrhea or CDAD.

As noted above, C. difficile is an anaerobic, motile bacteria that does not need oxygen to live. For this reason, it survives well in the large intestine, where there is not enough oxygen. It was first identified and described in 1935.

The bacteria produces spores that can withstand harsh conditions and can live for months, and in this form, it can be easily transmitted directly.

Symptoms of Clostridium Difficile in Dogs 

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Clostridium difficile causes pathogenic conditions in the digestive tract by secretion of three types of toxins: The toxin A-enterotoxin A, toxin B-B - cytotoxin and Binary toxin. These toxins cause disease, and they lead to diarrhea and colitis in dogs.

Clostridium difficile is a common cause of diarrhea in dogs, but it can also be found in normal animals (healthy animals that are not showing any symptoms and act only as a reservoir). Animals from veterinary clinics or shelters have higher colonization rates than household animals.

Furthermore, Clostridium difficile types in dogs are the same ones found in humans, which is a growing concern about potential zoonotic transmission (a condition that can be transmitted from animals to people).

Symptoms of clostridum difficle infection in dogs range from mild to very severe, life-threatening symptoms. The severity of symptoms varies depending on the health status of the animal, the number of bacteria, preexisting conditions, etc.

Visible symptoms include: diarrhea, blood and/or mucus in stool, painful elimination of feces, weakness, pain and dehydration despite the fact that animal drink excessive amounts of water

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How Dogs Get Clostridium Difficile

Infection occurs when there is an imbalance in the number of bacteria in the colon; when there is both present C. difficile in large numbers and when there is a reduction of non-infectious (normal bacterial flora) bacteria that normally lives in the colon of a healthy animal.

This situation is a precondition but not the only reason for the occurrence of infection. The reduction of normal bacterial flora in colon occurs after antibiotic or immunosuppressive therapy or when there is some other condition involved.

"There has been limited study of risk factors for C. difficile colonization. Living with an immunocompromised owner, antimicrobial administration to dogs, antimicrobial administration to the owner, contact with children, and visiting human hospitals are recognized risk factors in dogs."~Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine

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At the Vet's Office

Diagnosis of colitis can be determined by simple X-ray test, but, it is necessary to determine the underlying cause of the infection. Colitis, per se, is just an inflammation of the bowel, but the most usual reason is Clostridium difficile.

Laboratory tests such as bacterial culture or fecal culture (stool sample culture) can determine if the toxins produced by C. difficile are present because only their isolation is the formal diagnosis of colitis caused by C. difficile. PCR or ELISA is the standard diagnostic tests that are used for attestation of C. difficile.

Treatment of Clostridum difficile depends on the underlying cause. If colitis is caused by antibiotics which are still being applied, their admission should be discontinued immediately. The most effective antibiotic to combat C. difficile is metronidazole. A veterinarian may recommend diet as well.

Fecal Transplant in Dogs 

Fecal transplantation has also been considered as part of treatment for clostridium in dogs. Fecal transplant is a process in which stools (or feces) are collected from healthy, tested donors and placed into the recipient by different techniques that differ according to the health problem in question. This process has become a very effective method for solving chronic digestive and some other health problems in the human medicine realm.

In accordance with the success of the procedure in humans, cutting-edge pioneers tried this therapy in dogs and cats, and our furry friends are quite more acceptable of the idea of poop transplantation. Fecal transplantation is nothing more than basically “re-population” of digestive microorganisms.

Fecal transplantation in dogs is a highly experimental process. It is used for numerous cases of gastrointestinal problems, behavioral issues (like coprophagia-poop eating) and different skin conditions.

Although the number of cases is still too small, statistically speaking, reported success rate varies from 90-98%.

Did you know? Dogs can be trained to detect Clostridium difficile for hospitals. More than a half of CDI cases are hospital-acquired (right number is nearly 64%). Normal methods for detecting C.difficile bacteria are not wide enough or cost too much, so Canada first started a program for C. difficile sniffing dogs that could save up to 15.000 lives per year. Dogs will be trained to spot specific C. difficile toxin-smell (“barn-like” smell) on surfaces (not on live patients). As for the dogs, the risks are the same as those of any other working dog.


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About the Author

DVM Ivana Vukasinovic is a veterinarian in Belgrade, capital city of Serbia.


She received her B.S from University of Belgrade in 2012, and her master’s degree from Veterinary University, Belgrade.

Before eventually becoming director of Vetanima Doo, company that sells animal food, medicine and supplements, she have worked in many different fields of sales.

After finishing college, she started working as sales person in biggest Serbian bookshop chain, and being passionate about books, she had reached the position of publisher.

After leaving this field, she started working as a veterinary commercialist, and then landing a job as veterinarian at veterinary pharmacy, in the same company in which she is now acting as director.

When she is not working, she is either glued to some fantasy book or cooking for friends. She currently resides in Belgrade with her cat Mile.

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