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Dog Clostridium Perfringens

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Clostridium perfringens (C. perfringens) is a spore-forming bacterium that produces bowel-irritating toxins. It is ubiquitous in nature and commonly exists in soil, decomposing vegetation, sediments, and is a part of the normal flora in the intestinal tracts of many animals, including humans. While it is natural to have some C. perfringens in one’s digestive system, some strains of the bacterium are more toxic and will produce more substantial disruptions. For instance, C. perfringens is one of the most common sources of food poisoning in humans, and can cause serious illnesses. However, in both humans and pets, a C. perfringens infection can remain undiagnosed if the symptoms are mild and cause little to no discomfort.

In dogs, C. perfringens is frequently associated with chronic diarrhea. While C. perfringens can be detected in 80% of dogs, most do not display symptoms. Nevertheless, in some cases the diarrhea can be severe and life threatening. The infection can be caused by ingesting contaminated food, or can simply be triggered by external stress that causes existing bacteria to produce excess toxin.

Since diarrhea is a common symptom of many intestinal and extra-intestinal diseases, accurate diagnosis may be difficult, and comprehensive examinations will be required.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

When a dog has chronic diarrhea, and is free of other diseases that may cause long term bowel disruption, C. perfringens might be responsible. The types of diarrhea that can be caused by C. perfringens range anywhere from relatively mild to potentially lethal hemorrhagic diarrhea – a thorough physical examination must be performed to eliminate other possible causes such as parasites, inflammation, dietary problems, intestinal cancer, Addison’s disease, etc. Since the bacterium exists naturally in the digestive tract, a simple fecal test that detects the presence of C. perfringens is usually not sufficient to confirm the diagnosis; the fecal sample has to be tested for excessive toxin or other signs of infection. These tests are more expensive, and samples usually have to be sent to a reference lab to be tested.


If the animal’s chronic diarrhea is caused by C. perfringens, it can be easily treated with antibiotics. Commonly used antibiotics include ampicillin, amoxicillin, metronidazole, erythromycin, and tylosin. Response to the antibiotics can usually be seen within days of beginning the medication, while the full course of treatment will typically last for a few weeks. A dog does not need treatment for C. perfringens if it does not have persistent diarrhea with no other apparent cause, since excessive administration of antibiotics will cause the bacterium to develop resistance.

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