Tyzzer’s disease is a bacterial illness. It’s one of the most serious health issues that gerbils can experience. But the symptoms of Tyzzer’s disease can easily be missed.
Your gerbil can die within 48 hours of the symptoms of Tyzzer’s disease appearing. Tyzzer’s disease attacks the internal organs, especially the liver, which is why it’s so serious. The cure is antibiotics.
But you may not notice symptoms in time for the antibiotics to be effective. Even with antibiotic treatment, Tyzzer’s disease can kill gerbils. That’s because the bacteria which cause Tyzzer’s disease, Clostridium piliforme, are highly resistant.
What is Tyzzer’s Disease in Gerbils?
Tyzzer’s disease is a kind of bacterial disease that affects many kinds of animals. It can affect rodents, like gerbils, as well as other household pets and wild animals. It’s caused by a kind of bacteria that produces spores.
Tyzzer’s disease is highly infectious. It’s common among laboratory animals, which are often kept in cramped conditions with lots of other animals nearby. But infected wild animals have been found in:
The bacteria proliferate through the gerbil’s guts. As they do, they produce a toxin that damages the guts (and anything else they come into contact with). The disease leaves behind lesions throughout the body. But, according to the journal Digestive System, they mostly affect the liver.
These lesions are ‘necrotic.’ This means that they eat away at tissue. If left unchecked, they will continue eating through your gerbil’s liver. They can also affect the heart and gut. It’s these lesions, and the organ damage they cause, which mean that Tyzzer’s disease is fatal.
What Causes Tyzzer’s Disease?
According to Veterinary Researches and Biological Products, a kind of bacterium called Clostridium piliforme, formerly known as Bacillus piliformis, is responsible for Tyzzer’s disease. This bacterium was first isolated and described by Ernest Edward Tyzzer, a professor at Harvard Medical School.
Clostridium piliforme is unusual. It lives between cells, and is anaerobic, which means it doesn’t need oxygen to survive like some other bacteria. Each bacterium is variable in size and shape, and can move around. But what’s most unusual is that Clostridium piliforme produces spores.
These spores are the dormant, i.e. an inactive form of the bacteria. They are highly resistant to heat, light, cold, and chemical antibiotics. They’re much harder to get rid of than regular bacteria.
The reason why this kind of bacteria was isolated and examined so long ago is that it affects laboratory animals. Gerbils used to be kept in labs, as are other rodents.
Will Tyzzer’s Disease Kill Gerbils?
Tyzzer’s disease is an ‘acute’ condition. An acute condition has a sudden onset, and becomes serious quickly. Acute conditions are contrasted with chronic conditions, which last a long time.
Left untreated, Tyzzer’s disease is usually fatal. Somewhere around 80% of gerbils that display noticeable symptoms of Tyzzer’s disease will die. It’s vital that you take your pet gerbil to the vet as soon as you notice they’re sick.
However, this may not be possible. Tyzzer’s disease has a rapid onset. Death often occurs within 48 hours/two days of symptoms appearing.
You have to take your pet to the vet straight away. If you do, then the vet stands the best chance of curing the disease. Tyzzer’s disease can be cured with antibiotics. The problem is that it can kill so quickly that you may not notice symptoms before it becomes too severe.
Is Tyzzer’s Disease Always Fatal?
Antibiotics can get rid of Tyzzer’s disease. The condition isn’t necessarily a death sentence. But when your gerbil is administered antibiotics, they may not work. There are two reasons for that:
- The condition may already be too widespread to be cured
- The spores that Clostridium piliforme produce are somewhat resistant to antibiotics
A gerbil can still pass away even when it receives medical assistance. The later you spot symptoms and get antibiotics, the more likely it is that the condition will prove fatal.
It’s also possible for animals to carry the bacteria without it causing these symptoms. Gerbils, and many other mammals, can carry small amounts of the bacteria in their guts. These bacteria are kept in check by the body’s immune system.
How Is Tyzzer’s Disease Spread?
Tyzzer’s disease is spread through feces. When an animal accidentally ingests the feces of another, it can pass on disease.
One way in which this might happen is if your gerbil eats food that touched its bedding. If there were any feces on or in the bedding, it may have touched the food. This isn’t a big problem unless one of the gerbils has Tyzzer’s disease, though.
An animal can only catch Tyzzer’s disease if it’s kept near other animals. Another possibility is if an animal catches it from its enclosure, which another animal previously lived in.
Why is Tyzzer’s Disease Fatal?
The problem with Tyzzer’s disease is that it affects the internal organs. Tyzzer’s disease attacks the liver and guts. The liver is vital because it filters blood coming from the digestive tract, before it goes on to the rest of the body. It catches and destroys toxic chemicals, and also secretes bile.
Each of these functions is vital to good health. If you’ve known somebody with liver disease, you’ll know how important it is. But that’s not the only reason why Tyzzer’s disease is fatal.
The condition only strikes when your gerbil is already sick or stressed. Many gerbils carry the bacteria which cause the disease, but don’t experience symptoms. When a gerbil is in good health, the bacteria are kept in check.
But when your pet is sick or stressed, its immune functions aren’t as strong. That’s when the bacteria proliferate, and your gerbil gets even sicker.
What Are the Symptoms of Tyzzer’s Disease in Gerbils?
These symptoms are not necessarily signs of this health problem when seen on their own. But when all seen together, they are an indication that the gerbil has Tyzzer’s Disease.
Lesions on the Liver
This is one symptom that you won’t spot. According to the American Journal of Pathology, animals that contract Tyzzer’s disease experience necrotic lesions on their livers.
These lesions damage the liver and prevent it from functioning properly. When severely damaged, the liver can’t filter the blood properly. This is a serious issue that is fatal if untreated.
Upon autopsy, these lesions can be discovered. There may only be one spot, or there can be hundreds upon hundreds. Depending on the severity of the condition, they may also have spread to the lower intestinal tract or heart.
Alongside these lesions, the internal organs may also become inflamed. The colon can swell.
Diarrhea in Gerbils
Diarrhea can affect gerbils in the same way as it affects people. It looks exactly the same. Rather than your gerbil’s stool being solid, it is runny.
This has a doubly negative effect. Of course, the diarrhea is bad for your gerbil on its own. But it also aids in the transmission of Tyzzer’s disease from gerbil to gerbil. It’s necessary to isolate your gerbils if you suspect they have this condition.
You can spot diarrhea easily. It will stain the bedding it’s left on, and appear watery or pasty. Because it’s wet, it may also stain your gerbil’s coat. However, diarrhea doesn’t always appear in cases of Tyzzer’s disease. So, even if your gerbil doesn’t experience diarrhea, it can still be sick.
Emaciation in Gerbils
Emaciation is where your pet isn’t getting enough food, and starts to starve. There are two reasons why this occurs in gerbils with Tyzzer’s disease:
- Diarrhea. This prevents your gerbil from absorbing the nutritional content of its food. It ‘comes out’ before it’s fully digested.
- Lack of appetite. Lack of appetite is a common symptom of many health conditions in gerbils.
Emaciation is an easy symptom to spot, too. You will notice that your gerbil feels lighter than it used to. It may also look thinner than it did before, although this can be hidden by thick fur.
If you have been weighing your gerbil regularly, you can compare your pet’s weight to its past weight. If you haven’t been doing that, consider starting now. You can monitor the progress of your pet’s weight loss and weight gain.
Depression in Gerbils
Depression can occur because of stress, for example, boredom, or loneliness. But it does also occur during Tyzzer’s disease. You can spot depression in gerbils by looking for:
- Increased hours of sleep. An unhappy gerbil will spend more of its time hiding and sleeping — up to 23 hours a day. This is known by the clinical term ‘lethargy.’
- Lack of interest in food, exercise, or exploration. Depression prevents these normal behaviors in your gerbil.
- Lack of excitement or movement when picked up. Your gerbil may normally be excited when you interact with it, but not when it’s depressed.
The reason for your pet’s depression is obvious. Being sick is no fun, whether you’re a person or a gerbil. It can be painful, and means you have less energy to do what you want to do.
The symptoms of depression will disappear if you treat your pet’s condition.
Other Symptoms of Tyzzer’s Disease
These three symptoms aren’t the only ones you might spot. You may also notice that your gerbil’s coat is ruffled. Where it may have been sleek before, now it’s ruffled, and perhaps dirty. It will especially be dirty towards your gerbil’s rear, because of diarrhea.
Alongside diarrhea, which is easy to see, is another symptom related to your gerbil’s poo. This is called ‘melena.’ Melena is where your gerbil’s feces is tarry and black rather than only loose. This is caused by blood from the guts, which Tyzzer’s disease attacks.
Your gerbil may also have a decreased temperature. When a health condition is associated with either increased or decreased temperature, this is a bad sign.
Tyzzer’s Disease in Gerbils Treatment
If you notice Tyzzer’s disease in your gerbil, take it to the vet immediately. It needs medication, or it will almost certainly pass away. After visiting the vet, there are several things you can do to prevent the spread of the condition.
It’s vital that you clean your pet’s tank thoroughly, or even get it a new one. That’s because the bacteria can hang around inside the tank. The bacterial spores are highly resistant, and can:
- Survive hot water for thirty minutes
- Live in infected bedding for a year, or perhaps longer
Consider buying a new tank, new running wheel, and new bedding. This is the easiest way to prevent spread, although it is more expensive.
Can a Vet Help a Gerbil with Tyzzer’s Disease?
Tyzzer’s disease is caused by bacteria, which means that antibiotic drugs can prevent it from getting worse. You can acquire these from any vet, even those who don’t specialize in rodent care.
The two antibiotics which are commonly prescribed are penicillin and tetracycline. These drugs are both cheap and effective.
To give antibiotics to your gerbil, you use a small medicinal syringe. This isn’t the kind with a needle. It squirts the medication into your gerbil’s mouth. You may already have one at home, because they’re sold with children’s medicine.
Follow the instructions that your vet gives you. Complete the course of antibiotics, and your gerbil should be healthy again.
However, don’t get your expectations too high. It’s possible that your gerbil might die, even if its condition is treated with antibiotics.
Reduce Stress to Prevent Tyzzer’s Disease
An animal can carry the bacteria which cause this condition, but without any symptoms whatsoever. Only when the animals are subjected to psychological or physical stress do symptoms begin. You can prevent Tyzzer’s disease by preventing stress. Doing so is easy. Consider:
- Moving your gerbil to a quieter part of the home. Somewhere that it can still see some things happening, but isn’t subject to loud noises and bright lights, is perfect.
- Not handling your gerbil if it doesn’t like you. Not all gerbils enjoy handling and cuddling.
- Buying a bigger enclosure for your gerbils. Each gerbil needs ten gallons of tank space. Otherwise, the lack of room causes fighting.
By cutting down on stress, you could make it less likely that symptoms will appear.
Don’t Get Multiple Gerbils
Not all gerbils carry Tyzzer’s disease, only some. If you have two gerbils in your enclosure, the chances are that neither will have the condition. That pair can live together for years, and it’s impossible that either will catch the disease.
But say that one of them dies. You then introduce the survivor to the new gerbil. Unbeknownst to you, the new gerbil has Tyzzer’s disease. It can then be transmitted from one to the other.
So, one sure-fire way of preventing the condition is to avoid getting new gerbils. If you do, only get them from reputable breeders.