The genus Clostridium is a group of anaerobic bacteria (they can thrive in conditions where oxygen is not present) which have been linked to several important diseases in dogs. Two of the most common clostridial infections in dogs are caused by Clostridium perfringens and Clostridium difficile.
Some healthy dogs have been found to harbor C. difficile in their gastrointestinal tract without suffering any infection. However antibiotic treatment can create a favorable environment for this bacterium to increase in number and cause a condition called pseudomembranous colitis, a serious local infection affecting the colon.
Clostridium perfringens is also considered a normal bacterial flora of the gastrointestinal tract. However when conditions are favorable for their multiplication and colonization, the infectious agent can cause Clostridial enterotoxicosis, an abnormal condition of the intestinal tract which is manifested by diarrhea and abdominal pain. Vomiting and fever may also be present. There are certain types of Clostridium perfringens that produce toxins and have been linked to food poisoning in dogs. These are bacteria which are acquired when dogs eat poorly cooked meat or poultry. Most dogs suffering from food poisoning often recover from the gastrointestinal symptoms after a day or two without any serious complications. However, there are those that develop into clostridial necrotizing enteritis, an infection which may be fatal for dogs.
There are several predisposing factors that may pave the way for proliferation and colonization of Clostridium perfringens which includes a sudden change in diet, deficient antibodies, high intestinal pH, exposure to sick dogs in a kennel or hospital, and concurrent conditions affecting the digestive system such as gastroenteritis, parvovirus, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Diagnosis of Clostridial infections in dogs is based on a complete history and thorough physical exam. Your veterinarian may also recommend specific diagnostic tests such as complete blood count, urinalysis, and biochemical blood profile. Microscopic analysis of a fecal sample is also indicated. An endoscope can be used to get a clear view of the condition of the dog’s intestines and also to get tissue samples for further examination and bacterial culture. The latest state of the art diagnostic tool for Clostridium perfringens infection is an immunologic test which can identify the presence of the bacterial toxin in the fecal sample. The test is made more accurate when combined with the PCR testing to detect the Clostridial gene which has been linked to enterotoxin production.
Clostridium infection in dogs can be treated with a round of antibiotics which can be given orally for several weeks. Some of the most common antibiotics of choice include metronidazole, ampicillin, tylosin, amoxicillin, and tylosin.