The gut contains many bacteria necessary for digestion and maintaining good bowel health. One of these is Campylobacter jejuni, which normally lives in the gut quite happily without causing any problems.
However, sometimes this bacteria can multiply to unhealthy levels and cause diarrhea. No one is certain why this happens, but it is thought that repeat exposure to infected feces plays a part.
One issue with campylobacteriosis is that it not only causes diarrhea in cats and dogs, but also it infects people. Thus, regular hand washing, especially after touching your pet, is essential to your good health.
Campylobacteriosis is unpleasant, although not usually life-threatening. The main symptom is liquid diarrhea containing mucus. Sometimes patients lose their appetites and run fevers, but the main issue is a stomachache and runny stools.
Some animals recover after a few days without the need for treatment, but others develop long-term tummy upsets that do not improve unless treated. The latter cases can provide a constant source of the bacteria that act as a reservoir of infection for other animals and their humans.
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The name Campylobacter jejuni means the curved (campylo) bacteria (bacter) of the small intestine (jejuni), reflecting the right of this bug to live in the gut.
It is not entirely clear why campylobacter sometimes runs out of control, but this may happen either when the host’s immune system is weakened or because of repeated exposure to feces. The latter seems to be the reason why campylobacteriosis is common in overstocked kennels or where animals are kept in crowded conditions.
A recent case of mine was a Yorkshire Terrier who sustained terrible skin injuries in a road traffic accident. He was a brave trooper and never complained during his reconstructive surgery, but just when we thought he was through the worst, he developed diarrhea.
Fecal analysis showed he had developed campylobacteriosis, probably because his immune system was weakened by his accident. I’m happy to say he responded well to therapy and remains fit and well to this day.
The campylobacter bug needs special growing conditions to isolate it for identification. This involves sending a fecal sample to the lab where they grow the bug, which can take a few days. Under the microscope, campylobacter has a characteristic “seagull” shape.
The current treatment is an antibiotic called erythromycin. This is one of the few remaining effective antibiotics for campylobacteriosis, and since this condition also infects humans, this is of special concern.
Other antibiotics that used to work have lost their potency because of developed resistance. If your pet starts a course, he must take the full course to make the development of resistance less likely.
Another important factor is good hygiene. Make sure kennels are clean at all times — avoid overcrowding, otherwise the infection will simply pass from animal to animal in a never-ending cycle.
As mentioned above, clearing up feces and keeping food bowls scrupulously clean are vital.
Regarding human infection, a wise person washes his hands each time after touching his pet and especially before eating.
- “Campylobacter enteritis in dogs and cats.” Dillon et al. Comp Cont Ed Pract Vet, 9: 1176.
- “Campylobacter infections in domestic dogs.” Nair et al. Vet Rec, 116: 237.
- Small Animal Internal Medicine. Nelson & Couto. Publisher: Mosby.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed Jan. 2, 2016.
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