Twenty-four haemolytic Escherichia coli strains were isolated from dogs with diarrhea. The strains were serotyped and analysed by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for genes encoding virulence factors associated with E. coli that cause diarrhea in animals. Adhesion antigen production was deduced from haemagglutination experiments. Sodium dodecyl sulfate polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (SDS-PAGE) of heat extracts was also used as an indication for the production of adhesive structures. The majority of the strains was shown to produce this type of virulence factor. Adhesion and invasion tests of the strains and Caco-2 cells showed that all strains adhered and that two were invasive. The two invasive strains were positive in the intimin PCR and one of them also contained genes encoding CS31A. The PCR for heat stable toxin (ST) was positive in only four strains, as was the presence of F17 fimbrial genes. Surprisingly, 19 strains had intact P fimbrial operons, coding for an adhesin involved in urinary tract infection (UTI). The cytotoxic necrotising factor 1 (CNF1) gene, also mainly found in UTI was likewise detected in these 19 strains. Cytolethal distending toxin (Cdt) genes were found in five strains. The high number of strains positive for CNF1 and P fimbriae prompted us to test the strains in a multiplex PCR used to test E. coli isolated from UTI in various species for 30 virulence associated genes. The data showed that the majority of the diarrhea isolates have virulence factor profiles highly similar to UTI E. coli isolates from dogs. This raises the question whether these isolates are real intestinal pathogens or “innocent bystanders”. However, since CNF1 producing necrotoxic E. coli (NTEC) strains isolated from humans, pigs and calves with diarrhea appear to be highly related to our strains, it might be that in dogs this type of isolate is capable of causing not only UTI, but also diarrhea. If this is the case and this type of isolate is “bifunctional”, domestic animals likely constitute a reservoir of NTEC strains which can be also pathogenic for humans.
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