I’ve had this question a few times recently. There isn’t really a straightforward answer, and it depends what people mean when they say ‘get’. I’ve broken the question into a few components.
Can C. difficile be found in dogs and cats?
Yes. A small percentage (1-5%) of healthy dogs and cats carry C. difficile in their intestinal tract, and pass it in their stool. Higher carriage rates are found in certain groups, such as young animals, animals in veterinary hospitals and animals that visit human hospitals as part of therapy programs. Most animals that are carrying C. difficile do not get sick.
Does C. difficile cause disease in dogs and cats? (i.e. do they get sick?)
The answer to this one is ‘probably’. I don’t think we can say for sure, but C. difficile appears to be a cause of disease in dogs and cats, ranging from mild diarrhea to fatal severe colitis. There is evidence indicating that C. difficile might be one of the more common causes of diarrhea in dogs. In people, C. difficile infection is most common in hospitalized individuals and those being treated with antibiotics. The situation is different in dogs and cats, where disease seems to be most common in households (not veterinary hospitals), and in animals not being treated with antibiotics.
Information sheets on Clostridium difficile can be found on our Resources page.