E. coli (Escherichia coli) in Dogs: Infection and Prevention

Escherichia coli

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Escherichia coli (E. coli) can affect dogs, cats, and humans, and it can spread from animal to human or from human to animal. The bacteria is one of the most common types found in the world and it is a normal inhabitant of the gastrointestinal tract of all animals. Under certain circumstances, this bacteria can also be responsible for causing disease.

Enterotoxigenic E. coli, for instance, is an example of one type of Escherichia coli that can cause disease. Most commonly, this type of E.coli bacteria can cause food-borne illness. The disease can start to manifest when contaminated food or water is ingested. In the case of enterotoxigenic E. coli, these bacteria then produce a toxin that acts against the inside of the infected intestinal tract which results in diarrhea.

E. coli Infection in Dogs

Dogs can be infected with E. coli in a similar way that people can get infected: by eating or drinking contaminated food or water. There have been many recalls of commercial dog food diets and treats involving contamination with E. coli. Ingestion of these foods and treats could potentially cause infection in your dog and your pet may become an unfortunate carrier of the disease as well.

To protect your furry ones, keep an eye out for any product recalls and news about E. coli. It is important to stay on top of diet information, and there is a concern that feeding your pet a raw diet may result in an increased risk of transmitting any E. coli via the feces. Especially in breeding dogs, consider replacing a raw diet with one rich in supplemented vitamins, minerals, and oils.

Clinical Signs and Diagnosis

Some of the symptoms most commonly seen in animals and humans with E. coli are depression, dehydration, lack of appetite, and vomiting. E. coli can cause colibacillosis disease in dogs, which often occurs in the lower intestines. Although the bacteria is generally benign, it can greatly affect newborn puppies—especially those that are deprived of essential nutrients like colostrum from mother's milk.

E. coli is most likely to affect weakened animals, the very young or very old, malnourished, or immune-compromised pets. But as with all bacterial infections, diagnosis cannot be confirmed by physical exam alone. Confirmation of the diagnosis requires that your veterinarian run a culture test on blood or urine samples, where the bacteria are grown on a culture plate to be identified.

Prevention Tips

As there are no current treatments to cure E. coli, prevention is the best defense. Hygienic measures are the most reliable method of preventing infection:

  • Practice good handling techniques when preparing food. For example, cook all meat thoroughly before feeding to your dog.
  • Apply good hygiene, including washing your hands frequently and thoroughly. Teach children to wash well. Make sure everyone washes hands after handling your dog's food.
  • Avoid drinking water from potentially contaminated sources.
  • Be cautious of unpasteurized dairy products.
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly before feeding to your dog.
If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.