Clostridium is a strain of bacteria, which can sometimes be harmful. The two most common strains are clostridium perfingens, and clostridium difficile (also known as C-Diff). These bacteria can be found in raw meats, rotten foods, feces, marine sediment (like standing water), decaying vegetation, and trash. They are also both found in humans as well as animals, and are often present in the body without symptoms. The immune system passes them and combats any ill effects on its own, and no harm is done. However, sometimes the bacteria can lodge in the intestine, where they produce large amounts of endospores. When levels become too high, clostridial enterotoxicosis can occur, causing illness and other problems.
When a pet suffers from clostridial enterotoxicosis (sometimes just referred to as clostridium), the symptoms and severity can vary widely. In dogs, the most common signs are repeated diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramps (seen by aversion to food, contact or movement), fever, blood in the stool, lethargy, and gas. It is less common in cats, but can be seen in diarrhea with mucus (will be shiny), or vomiting. Clostridium symptoms can be acute, and over in less than a week, or recur frequently, appearing for a few days every few weeks. Often it is harder for cats to get rid of, due to litter and their frequent grooming (licking feet, etc). These symptoms however, can mimic that of a parasite or other health problem, so your pet will need to be tested at a vet. They are usually diagnosed with a fecal sample, and blood tests may be done to check for other problems (immune system problems, vitamin deficiencies, etc). Clostridium is treated with antibiotics, and sometimes a high-fiber or probiotic diet. In animals that have other health problems, or severe cases, more aggressive therapy may be needed (IV fluids, vet stay, etc). While a pet is being treated, they should be isolated from public areas, and their feces handled with caution. The bacteria can be transmitted to humans, and can cause illness in the young, elderly, immune-compromised, or ill. Bag and dispose of all bowel movements immediately, and then wash your hands. Use appropriate sanitizing agents on litter boxes and area where feces has been (some antibacterial wipes do not kill C-Diff, so check the label).
The best way to deal with clostridial enterotoxicosis is to take steps to prevent it. Provide your animal with a consistent routine and feeding schedule. Sometimes a change in diet or daily activities can cause stress on a pet, which reduces their ability to fight off bacteria on their own. Keep them away from other sick animals. Keep their food and water indoors, and if it must be outside, put it on a raised surface (not the ground). Do not allow your dog or cat to drink from puddles, lakes, ponds, etc, and keep them supervised in such an environment. Clean up feces properly, do not let them eat it (this includes the dog finding a snack in the cat’s litter box)! And most importantly, take your pets in for regular checkups. If they are healthy in other areas, they will be more likely to pass the clostridia on their own without any symptoms.
A simple little bacterium can be passed out of the body without any problems, or can cause severe illness and gastrointestinal distress in an animal. Always monitor your pet for signs of illness, and contact your vet if you suspect clostridial enterotoxicosis or another problem.
Sources: VetInfo, PetMD