In dogs and cats, diarrhea is an extremely common occurrence. But did you know that many diarrhea cases are caused by a bacterial pathogen called Clostridium difficile (which is commonly called C diff for short)? If you take your sick pet to the veterinarian with a report of frequent diarrhea, your vet will likely run a test on their stool that looks for the presence of particular bacterial pathogens, including Clostridium difficile. If C diff is detected in your pet’s stool, it’s very likely the culprit for causing their diarrhea.
What does C. difficile do?
Clostridium difficile releases inflammatory toxins that damage your pet’s digestive tract. In addition, each C. difficile cell has hundreds of tiny, whiplike tails (called “flagella”), and as the C. difficile cell travels along your pet’s intestine, these tails whip around and inflict innumerable tiny wounds onto your pet’s intestines.
Because a C diff infection involves a very large number of these bacterial cells, all these tiny wounds add up and can cause severe, lasting damage to your pet’s digestive health.
How is C. difficile usually treated?
Since C diff cells can be very damaging, eliminating the pathogen becomes a top priority. Unfortunately, this can be a rather difficult task. In many veterinary practices, the most common method for treating a C diff infection is with antibiotics. Usually the antibiotic sequence will last one to two weeks.
In many cases, by the end of the antibiotic sequence, the C. difficile pathogen will be eliminated, and the diarrhea resolves. However, your pet may not be in the clear just yet. It is estimated that at least 20% of those that contract Clostridium difficile will have a recurrence of the infection, usually within just 1-2 months.
C. difficile and recurrent infection
Research suggests that eliminating C diff with antibiotics may eliminate the pathogen in the short term, as long as the antibiotics are present in the system. However, the antibiotics will likely have also harmed beneficial gut bacteria needed to keep pathogens like C diff in check. And as soon as the antibiotics are gone, your pet’s gut may provide a perfect breeding ground for more C diff.
To make matters worse, the C diff strains can become more resistant to antibiotics with each recurring infection. An increasingly resilient pathogen paired with an increasingly sick pet can create a life-threatening situation.
Treating Clostridium difficile with fecal transplants
Because C diff is growing increasingly common, particularly among immunocompromised individuals and in hospital settings, researchers are motivated to find a more effective treatment that does not leave the patient vulnerable to future infections. Numerous studies in humans indicate that Fecal Microbiota Transplants (FMTs) are a solution. Fecal Microbiota Transplants involve taking stool (composed of beneficial bacteria) from a healthy individual and transplanting it - usually via enema or via an oral capsule - into a sick individual. One study found that antibiotics provided long-term resolution for about 30% of resistant C diff cases, whereas FMT did so for more than 80%.
Often an imbalanced microbiome is missing key bacteria for healthy gut function. The idea behind FMTs is rather than eliminate all of the bacteria in the gut with an antibiotic, instead it “plants the seeds” for a healthy, diverse microbiome that contains bacteria that are able to outcompete C diff. In addition to fighting pathogens, a balanced gut microbiome provides the foundation for long-term gut health and function.
C. difficile and your pet
We know it can be heartbreaking to see your pet suffer from a recurrent C diff infection. If your pet is dealing with a C diff infection that continues to reappear, you and your veterinarian might consider AnimalBiome’s science-backed Gut Restoration Supplements - oral fecal transplant capsules, to help introduce all the healthy bacteria that your pet needs to kick C diff for good.
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You might like reading, How to Support Your Pet During & After Antibiotics.