Open Access Open Badges Research article

Presence and molecular characterization of Clostridium difficile and Clostridium perfringens in intestinal compartments of healthy horses

Angelika Schoster13*, Luis Guillermo Arroyo1, Henry Rolf Staempfli1, Patricia Elisabeth Shewen2 and Jeffrey Scott Weese2

Author affiliations

1 Department of Clinical Studies, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, Canada

2 Department of Pathobiology, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, Canada

3 Department of Veterinary Disease Biology, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark

For all author emails, please log on.

Citation and License

BMC Veterinary Research 2012, 8:94  doi:10.1186/1746-6148-8-94

Published: 29 June 2012



Clostridium difficile and Clostridium perfringens are commonly associated with colitis in equids, but healthy carriers exist. Scarce information is available on the prevalence of Clostridium spp. in gastrointestinal compartments other than faeces in healthy horses, and it is unknown whether faecal samples are representative of proximal compartments. The objectives were to investigate the prevalence of C. difficile and C. perfringens in different intestinal compartments of healthy adult horses and to determine whether faecal samples are representative of colonization in proximal sites and overall carrier status.


Toxigenic C. difficile was isolated from 14/135 (10.3%) samples from 8/15 (53.3%) horses. Between zero and three sites were positive per horse, and multiple sites were positive in four horses. Isolates were recovered from duodenum, jejunum, ileum, right dorsal colon, small colon and rectum. When multiple compartments were positive in a single horse, two different C. difficile ribotypes were always present. Clostridium perfringens Type A (CPE, β2 toxin gene negative) was recovered from the left ventral colon of one horse (0.74%, 1/135 samples). Agreement between faeces and overall C. difficile carrier status was good.


Clostridium difficile can be found in different compartments of the gastrointestinal tract of healthy horses, and multiple strains can be present in an individual horse. The prevalence of C. perfringens in healthy adult hoses was low, consistent with previous reports. Faecal samples were representative for presence of C. difficile in proximal compartments in 5/8 horses (63%) but were not representative for the specific strain.

Clostridium difficile; Clostridium perfringens; Equine gastrointestinal tract; Equine intestinal microflora; Clostridium difficile ribotyping