What are Clostridium perfringens?
Clostridium perfringens enterotoxicosis in cats is a complex syndrome that causes spontaneous diarrhea in felines. Experts estimate that nearly 15-20 percent of all feline diarrhea cases are Clostridium perfringens related. Clostridium perfringens is a bacterial infection of the intestines with which most cats develop long-term clinical symptoms of diarrhea and clinical signs associated with gastrointestinal disease. Any cat can be affected the bacteria, but Clostridium perfringens is poorly understood, leaving veterinarians unaware of the exact cause for the bacterial overgrowth. Cat owners will notice spontaneous diarrhea lasting from a couple days to a few weeks, which leads to life-threatening dehydration that must be addressed by a veterinary professional.
Symptoms of Clostridium perfringens in Cats
Clinical cases of Clostridium perfringens in cats is associated with acute diarrhea lasting for about five to seven days. Chronic cases of Clostridium perfringens in cats, however, is characterized by intermittent episodes of diarrhea recurring about every four to six weeks. A chronic case of this intestinal disease could persist over a month’s time or several years. Common symptoms of a cat affected by Clostridium perfringens includes:
- Acute hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (intestinal inflammation paired with blood in the stomach)
- Mucus-covered stools
- Bright red blood covered stools
- Watery stools
- Tenesmus (straining to defecate)
- Hematochezia (blood upon the passage of a bowel movement)
- Flatulence (passing gas)
- Abdominal discomfort
Causes of Clostridium perfringens in Cats
It is unclear whether Clostridium perfringens is a healthy bacterium normally found within the intestine of the feline, which simply overgrows due to certain conditions, or Clostridium perfringens is an infectious bacteria. Researchers have found the Clostridium perfringens widely distributed within the soil, but it is unknown whether the bacteria thrives in the environment or was shed through mammalian feces. Veterinarians have been able to link the bacterial infection to certain conditions, such as stress, which brings experts to believe Clostridium perfringens is an opportunistic pathogen. A pathogen that is characterized as an opportunistic pathogen does not cause harm to a healthy feline, but can inflict harm if the feline’s immune system becomes unbalanced.
Diagnosis of Clostridium perfringens in Cats
Your veterinarian will begin the diagnostic process with a review of your cat’ medical history and a physical examination. In the case of Clostridium perfringens, your feline may appear to have abdominal discomfort upon palpation of the abdomen during the physical examination. The symptoms associated with Clostridium perfringens are rather vague as, intestinal complications can be the clinical sign for a variety of underlying causes. Therefore, your veterinarian will likely discuss any changes in your cat’s diet as well as run a fecal examination to detect the presence of internal parasites. A fecal examination proves ineffective for detecting Clostridium perfringens as only the enterotoxins produced by Clostridium are a true diagnosis of this bacterial infection. Your veterinarian will likely conduct a cell cytology assay and ELISA test on the feline’s blood samples, combined with an anaerobic culture. A PCR test which is used to distinguish strains of non-toxigenic agents from toxigenic strains may also be completed.
Treatment of Clostridium perfringens in Cats
The majority of feline patients diagnosed with Clostridium perfringens are treated as outpatients, but if the feline’s diarrhea has caused severe dehydration, a short hospitalization period may be required to supplement with fluid therapy. All activities will be restricted during your cat’s recovery time and a diet high in fiber will likely be advised. High fiber diets reduce the number of Clostridial bacteria, while acidifying the inner intestine, which will reduce the growth of intestinal bacteria. An antibiotic medication may not be necessary, but chronic cases of Clostridium perfringens in cats may be prescribed antibiotic therapy.
Recovery of Clostridium perfringens in Cats
The majority of felines respond very well to therapy against Clostridium perfringens, but chronic cases may require long-term control of bacterial growth. Your cat will likely remain on a high fiber diet unless the feline remains stable without dietary changes. A clean and stress-free environment can help to prevent Clostridium perfringens from recurring or overgrowing to a point of causing intestinal disease.
Clostridium perfringens Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
Can Clostridium perfringens be passed on to humans? If so how do I keep my family safe from getting it?
We just adopted a new kitten from a rescue and he had diarrhea on and off and then started having it multiple times a day, Vet says its Clostridium perfringens.
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What antibiotics would I give my cat for clostridium perfringens in the gut he has been diagnosed by a vet and been given a course of antibiotics at the time his stools are formed but very soft I was thinking of giving him another course to see if that would help or have you any advice thank you
Generally an infection of Clostridium perfringens (I assume all tests for toxins etc have been carried out) would be treated for fourteen days using an antibiotic like amoxicillin or metronidazole; remember that you need to complete the course of treatment but results should be seen within a few days. If you suspect that the infection hasn’t been adequately treated it would be best to have culture and sensitivity testing done to find the best specific antibiotic to treat the infection with, rather than blindly treating with different antibiotics until the infection has gone. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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