Tyzzer’s Disease in Hamsters: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Tyzzer’s disease is a highly-fatal bacterial infection caused by a gram-negative intracellular bacterium called Clostridium piliforme. The disease was first described in mice in 1917 and later in muskrats in 1943. Later, other animals including gerbils, rats, hamsters, and guinea pigs were also found to have the disease.

Tyzzer’s disease mainly affects young, well-nourished animals suffering from stress or immunosuppression. Clinical signs include liver failure and icterus, which is a consequence of hepatic necrosis.

Hamsters get infected with Tyzzer’s disease through the ingestion of spores found in feces from infected animals. A histopathologic analysis supported by PCR assay of C piliforme is issued to confirm the diagnosis of this infection.

In this article we will highlight the following:

Tyzzer’s Disease in Hamsters

What is Tyzzer’s disease?

Tyzzer’s disease is an infection caused by Clostridium piliforme, a spore-forming, motile, gram-negative bacterium. The bacterium is common in young or stressed hamsters and affects the digestive system causing abdominal pain and sometimes watery diarrhea.

Once infected, a hamster can suffer from acute necrotizing hepatitis and rapidly professing hepatic failure. The prognosis does not look good as the risk of death is very high in hamsters and gerbils.

Symptoms of Tyzzer’s disease in hamsters

There are instances when a hamster can die instantly without showing any signs of infection. However, common Tyzzer’s disease symptoms include:

  • Anorexia (lack of appetite)
  • Watery diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Rough hair coat
  • Abdominal pain
  • Hunched posture
  • Depression
  • Melena
  • Anal bleeding

Apart from these clinical signs, there will be notable gross pathological changes such as:

  • Ulcerative necrotizing colitis
  • Necrotic foci on & in the liver
  • Lung congestion
  • Enlarged mesenteric lymph nodes
  • Edematous
  • White streaks in the myocardium

A hamster suffering from Tyzzer’s disease will also show the following histological signs:

  • Epithelial cell necrosis
  • Intestinal ulceration
  • Liver lesions

Causes of Tyzzer’s disease in hamsters

As mentioned above, Tyzzer’s disease is a bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Clostridium piliforme, a gram-negative (does not retain the crystal violet stain used in the Gram staining method of bacterial differentiation), motile (can move by self-propulsion using metabolic energy), spore-forming, rod-shaped, flagellated (has flagella for cell motion), intracellular (infect and replicate inside the host cells) bacteria.

How hamsters get infected with Tyzzer’s disease

A hamster gets infected with Tyzzer’s disease when it ingests feces from infected animals. The bacterium replicates in the intestinal mucosa causing enterocyte death.

Once enterocytes die, the bacteria can infiltrate into the portal circulation from where it gets distributed to major organs such as the liver.

The bacterium also has an affinity for the epithelial and smooth muscle cells of the intestines, cardiac myocytes (cardiac muscle), and hepatocytes (cells in the liver involved in protein synthesis).

All these make the spread of the bacterium fast, which means an infected hamster can die within days after infection. 

Stress in hamsters caused by factors such as overcrowding, poor sanitation, excessive noise & light, and constant handling of the hamster appears to be predisposing factors that make the hamster more susceptible to infections.

Diagnosis of Tyzzer’s disease in hamsters

The first phase of diagnosis involves observing the clinical signs of the disease along with conducting clinical pathologic testing. If the symptoms are consistent with Tyzzer’s disease, the vet will do a PCR assay for C piliforme in the feces of the sick hamster. This adds more certainty to the observed clinical signs.

Treatment for Tyzzers’s disease in hamsters

Although the mortality rate for this disease is very high, antibiotics can help fight the infection. Your veterinarian may also prescribe mineral and vitamin supplements to boost the hamster’s immunity and general health. In case of dehydration, the vet will administer fluids and electrolyte supplements. Supportive care will play a key role in your hamster’s achieving full recovery.

How to prevent Tyzzer’s disease in hamsters

There are a few things you can do as a pet owner to prevent your hamsters from getting infected with Tyzzer’s disease. You can do the following:

  • Clean your hamster’s cage and living area regularly
  • Isolate sick hamsters from the rest to prevent infection
  • Avoid overfeeding your hamsters with protein-rich diets
  • Eliminate things that may cause stress to your hamsters
  • Euthanize sick hamsters if immediate treatment is not possible
  • Decontaminate the hamster’s living area after euthanizing

Key facts about Tyzzer’s disease

Now that you know everything about Tyzzer disease, here are the key points about this disease:

  • It is highly fatal and severe cases lead to death
  • It is characterized by lesions in the liver, heart, intestine, and other organs
  • It can also lead to liver failure
  • The disease affects mostly young, well-fed hamsters
  • Presumptive diagnosis involves observing clinical signs but additional tests should be done to confirm the presence of the disease

Final thoughts…

Tyzzer’s disease is one the common illnesses in hamsters that affects mainly young and well-fed pets. It is a fatal disease and only a small percentage of hamsters survive once the infection becomes severe. It’s recommended to seek immediate veterinary care for your pet if you notice any of the mentioned symptoms or if you suspect it has Tyzzer’s disease.