Helicobacter in Small Mammals

Key Points

  • Helicobacter spp. is a group of gastric, spiral-shaped bacteria with special environmental and culture requirements.
  • Gastric helicobacters such as Helicobacter mustelae and H. pylori reside in the stomach, while enterohepatic helicobacters such as H. hepaticus are found in the large bowel.
  • Although infection is often asymptomatic, Helicobacter spp. may overgrow with concurrent disease or other stressors.
  • In the United States, all ferrets with gastritis or peptic ulcers have Helicobacter mustelae infections until proven otherwise. Clinical signs frequently include anorexia and diarrhea, which may progress to melena, vomiting and other signs of nausea and abdominal pain such as heavy drooling, pawing at the mouth, and teeth grinding.
  • Monitor stressed ferrets for early signs of gastritis and begin prophylactic treatment such as histamine receptor antagonists in hospitalized ferrets.
  • Diagnosis of Helicobacter gastritis is often presumptive
  • Management of Helicobacter infection relies on combination therapy including antibiotics (such as amoxicillin and metronidazole), gastroprotectant agents (such as bismuth subsalicylate or sucralfate), and histamine blockers and/or proton pump inhibitors.
  • Helicobacter hepaticus may cause hepatitis and hepatocellular carcinoma in certain strains of laboratory mice. Even subclinical disease is significant, since this organism may be associated with altered responses to experimental stimuli.

In 1985, a spiral-shaped microorganism was isolated from the duodenal ulcer of a ferret. Since that time, gastritis and peptic ulcers have been routinely reported in ferrets. In fact one of the reasons ferrets are kept as laboratory animals, is for the study of Helicobacter mustelae . . .

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