Clostridial Enteritis in Hamsters

Clostridial enteritis, also called wet-tail, is a frequent disease in 2 to 3 week-old hamsters caused by pathogenic bacteria. It is most always complicated by overgrowth of protozoa and bacteria that are part of normal flora of the organism. Inflammation of the intestinal tract (enteric disease) may result from overgrowth of Clostridium perfringens, C. difficile, and C. spireforme bacteria. These bacteria produce toxins that cause inflammation (edema) and bleeding (hemorrhage), and occasionally destruction of tissues (necrosis).

There are two forms of Clostridial enteritis. The first is acute disease in hamsters which may result from dietary changes, antibiotic therapy, concurrent diseases or other stress agents that can disrupt the bacterial balance. Antibiotics implicated in clostridial enteritis include lincomycin, erythromycin, penicillin, ampicillin , gentamycin, vancomycin and cephalosporins. Clinical signs in hamsters with this form of the disease include ruffled hair, loss of appetite, dehydration, and diarrhea. Animals usually die within 48 hours after the onset of the disease.

The second form occurs in older (more than 6 month old) hamsters. Hamsters slowly lose weight and die without developing diarrhea. Campylobacter Fetus ssp jejuni has been incriminated of late as having a contributing role in the clinical symptoms of enteric disease.

Definitive diagnosis for either syndrome can be made by identification of the bacteria in bacterial cultures or by detection of the toxins (toxin A and B of C. difficile) in bowel fluids. Exaperimental studies showed that treatment with vancomycin or erythromycin may improve clinical disease in the chronic clostridial syndrome, but cessation of antibiotic therapy resulted in return of the disease. Control measures are targeted at control of environmental stressors, and cessation of oral medications.


  1. MU College of Veterinary Medicine, Hamster Diseases
  2. NetVet Veterinary Resources, Ken Boschert, DVM Associate Director Washington University 'Division of Comparative Medicine, Hamster Diseases

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