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E. Coli in Dogs

What Is E. Coli in Dogs?

Escherichia coli, commonly referred to as E. coli, is a bacterium naturally present in the intestines of healthy dogs, on their skin, and in the surrounding environment. However, certain strains of E. coli can lead to colibacillosis, an infection most frequently observed in young puppies.

E.coli has the capacity to infect various systems within a dog’s body. Among adult dogs, it typically manifests as urinary tract infections.

When humans encounter E. coli, they often associate it with food poisoning. While the frequency of E. coli-induced diarrhea in dogs is not precisely known, it tends to occur more frequently in dogs with underdeveloped or compromised immune systems, such as puppies.

In puppies, an E. coli infection can rapidly escalate to sepsis, constituting a medical emergency. If your pet experiences severe diarrhea, repeated vomiting, loss of appetite, weakness, collapse, or difficulty breathing, immediate veterinary attention is essential.


The onset of E. coli infection in puppies is typically abrupt, characterized by the following symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Reduced interest in nursing
  • Watery diarrhea
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Bluish tint observed in gums and other mucous membranes
  • Feeling cold to the touch

It’s important to note that E. coli can affect various other body systems. While these symptoms specifically pertain to E. coli infections in puppies, the bacterium can also lead to pneumonia, urinary tract infections, pyometra (pus-filled uterus), and other illnesses.


E. coli infections in puppies are frequently observed within the initial weeks of their lives. Due to the lack of a fully developed immune system, puppies are more vulnerable to such infections.

Puppies can contract E. coli through various means:

  • The initial milk produced by the mother after giving birth (colostrum) typically contains antibodies crucial for protecting puppies from diseases. If the mother doesn’t produce an adequate amount of quality colostrum, or if the puppies fail to nurse effectively, they become more susceptible to infection due to insufficient antibody intake from their mother.
  • If the mother dog harbors an E. coli infection, the bacteria can transmit to the puppies during their time in her uterus, through the blood supply, or during the birthing process.
  • If the mother dog carries E. coli in her milk or suffers from an infected mammary gland (mastitis), this can result in the puppies becoming infected as they nurse.

E. coli infection may be more prevalent in puppies born to dogs in unhygienic environments such as puppy mills or overcrowded kennels. Shelters might experience higher rates of E. coli infections as they often take in birthing or lactating mothers that haven’t received appropriate care.

Moreover, there have been reports of dogs contracting antibiotic-resistant strains of E. coli from consuming raw meat. This poses a significant concern as the individuals handling the food are also at risk of exposure.


When faced with puppies displaying symptoms of E. coli infection, veterinarians typically commence diagnostic procedures. This often involves conducting a fecal flotation test to detect parasites and administering a parvovirus (parvo) test, which entails examining a small fecal sample. If these initial tests yield negative results, veterinarians usually initiate aggressive treatment to address the symptoms.

Confirmation of an E. coli infection typically necessitates a culture. In adult dogs, cultures are more commonly conducted to diagnose infections affecting specific body systems, such as the urinary tract. This approach ensures that the chosen antibiotics effectively combat the infection.

In severe cases where there’s suspicion of a bloodstream infection (sepsis), veterinarians may opt for a blood culture. Animals afflicted with sepsis are critically ill and are often treated at specialized clinics.

Puppies suffering from sepsis often face euthanasia or succumb to the illness before culture results become available. In most instances, veterinarians initiate treatment promptly without waiting for a definitive diagnosis, adjusting the treatment plan based on subsequent test results.

Providing pertinent information to your veterinarian is crucial. This includes your dog’s vaccination history, details regarding dewormers or preventatives used, medications your pet is currently taking, recent dietary changes, and whether your pet consumes raw meat.


In cases of severe diarrhea or dehydration in dogs, veterinarians typically recommend inpatient treatment involving intravenous fluids. For milder instances, fluids may be administered subcutaneously (under the skin) on an outpatient basis.

In situations where severe diarrhea results in electrolyte imbalances or low blood sugar levels, electrolytes and dextrose (a form of sugar) may be added to the fluids.

Dogs, especially puppies, exhibiting poor appetite may require a feeding tube to ensure adequate nutrition.

The usage of antibiotics in cases of diarrhea remains controversial. However, in young puppies where sepsis is a concern, veterinarians often initiate antibiotic therapy. Nevertheless, it’s not uncommon for E. coli to display resistance to specific antibiotics. Thus, treatment plans should ideally be adjusted based on culture and sensitivity results whenever feasible.

Living and Management

Puppies affected by E. coli infection may require bottle-feeding to ensure they receive sufficient nutrition, particularly if the mother is experiencing mastitis. If a puppy refuses the bottle and doesn’t nurse, it’s important to seek veterinary assistance for tube-feeding.

Maintaining cleanliness and warmth is crucial for puppies. Regularly changing their bedding and ensuring clean hands and attire when handling them is essential.

While some puppies may gradually recover over the course of several days, despite intensive treatment, many can deteriorate rapidly, sometimes within hours of displaying symptoms.


While not all instances of E. coli can be prevented, maintaining the health of a pregnant or nursing female is paramount. For owners of breeding females, ensuring a clean environment is essential. This involves regular cleaning and changing of bedding, along with providing a high-quality, balanced diet.

It’s crucial to monitor the nursing behaviors of puppies after birth to confirm they are nursing properly. If any redness, sores, or pus are noticed on or near the mother’s teats, prompt treatment should be sought. It’s advisable to refrain from allowing puppies to nurse from visibly infected mammary glands. Additionally, it’s important to practice handwashing and wear clean attire before handling puppies.

For those who feed their dogs table scraps or a homemade diet, ensuring that all meat is thoroughly cooked is imperative. After handling raw meat, it’s essential to wash hands and clean all surfaces and utensils that have come into contact with it.

E. Coli in Dogs FAQs

How long can a dog survive with E. coli?

While some puppies may recover from E. coli infection, others may deteriorate rapidly within hours of exhibiting symptoms. With appropriate supportive care, most adult dogs can overcome an E. coli infection and lead a normal lifespan.

Is E. coli in dogs transmissible to humans?

Yes. Contact with dogs or their feces is considered a risk factor for contracting E. coli infections in humans.

Can E. coli in dogs be treated naturally?

Dogs diagnosed with E. coli infection should receive veterinary attention. While many cases can be managed with supportive care and may not necessitate intensive medical treatment, it’s crucial that treatment is overseen by a veterinarian.

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