Gerbils: Tyzzer’s disease

Gerbils can suffer from a number of health problems, but Tyzzer’s disease is a very serious infectious disease that affects the liver and is usually caught from mice. Good hygiene, the use of good quality bedding and burrowing material will help prevent this disease.

Tyzzer’s disease is caused by the bacteria Clostridium piliforme. The incidence of spontaneous disease is quite low, occurring in sporadic outbreaks. Infection occurs by contact with infected animals or bedding, via the faecal-oral route.

Unlike most other rodents and rabbits, gerbils are innately susceptible to expressing overt Tyzzer’s disease without a need for physiologic stress or steroid therapy to aid in disease development. This is an acute, usually fatal disease in gerbils.

Diarrhoea in gerbils is extremely rare. In the unlikely event your gerbil has diarrhoea, your nose will soon alert you to the problem. Your suspicions will be confirmed by staining around the anus and base of the tail. Diarrhoea in gerbils is unlikely to be caused by over-indulgence in fruit and vegetables as it can be in other rodents. Gerbils simply don’t like these foods enough to over-indulge. Diarrhoea in gerbils is likely to have a more serious cause and is sometimes the first sign of the deadly Tyzzer’s disease.

In colony situations, high mortality rates can occur with some animals exhibiting depression, unthrifty appearance, and varying degrees of watery diarrhoea. Morbidity and mortality is highest in young gerbils and pregnant females, although all age groups can be affected.

No treatment is effective once the disease is clinically apparent due to the type of organism and its ability to sporulate. Treatment with antibiotics may decrease mortality.

Control is achieved by strict hygiene and the reduction of environmental and experimental stress and/or by elimination of exposed and symptomatic animals.

Disinfection of cages and equipment is best done with a disinfectant such as 1% bleach solutions.