Clostridium difficile is a bacterium that is an important cause of disease in people and has been getting a lot of press lately in this area. Associated with that has been a lot of questions about C. difficile in dogs. Here are some facts to ponder:

  • C. difficile is thought to be a cause of diarrhea in dogs in the general population, although its true role in disease is still unclear. C. difficile infection in dogs may cause mild to moderate diarrhea that is treatable.
  • Some (<5%) healthy dogs can carry C. difficile in their intestinal tract. They may never have a problem with it.
  • Dogs that visit human hospitals have much higher rates of C. difficile carriage, but we currently don’t have any evidence that they are at higher risk for disease. They probably ingest the bacterium from the hospital environment and patients’ hands.
  • We are highly suspicious that C. difficile can be transmitted between people and pets (in both directions), but pets are probably not a major source of infection for people.

Certain risk factors for C. difficile carriage or infection are known, including antibiotic use (people and pets), advancing age (people) and admission to a hospital (people and pets). Some of these are not avoidable. General considerations for C. difficile prevention include:

  • Don’t use antibiotics unless they are actually required. This goes for people and pets.
  • Wash your hands regularly.
  • Avoid contact with dog stool, especially diarrhea.
  • Enjoy your pet. There is always a risk of disease transmission but the risk of getting C. difficile from your pet is not something to stay up worrying about.