Proliferative colitis

From Ferret

Proliferative colitis (proliferative bowel disease) is a relatively common gastrointestinal bacterial disease of mustelids worldwide[1].

This disease appears to be predominantly seen in young male ferrets.

Causative organisms thought to be involved include:

  • Lawsonia intracellularis[2]
  • Desulfovibrio vulgaris[3]

Proliferative colitis is usually associated clinically with anorexia, weight loss, painful defecation and melena. Deaths from this disease have been reported. The bacteria can translocate from the colon, where they normally reside, to the mesenteric lymph nodes, omentum, and liver, resulting in disease in these organs[4].

Diagnosis is difficult but radiographic evidence of thickened bowel loops and laboratory culture and PCR assays on fecal samples will help establish a definitive diagnosis[5].

A differential diagnosis must include inflammatory bowel disease, coccidiosis, gastric lymphoma and Helicobacter spp infection.

Treatments for proliferative colitis are often successful when identified early and most cases respond to long-term antimicrobial therapy.

Oral chloramphenicol treatment (50 mg/kg every 12 hours for 10 - 21 days) results in marked clinical improvement and eradication of proliferative intestinal lesions[6].

Supportive fluid therapy may be necessary in moribund patients.


  1. Fox JG & Lawson GH (1988) Campylobacter-like omega intracellular antigen in proliferative colitis of ferrets. Lab Anim Sci 38(1):34-36
  2. Cooper DM et al (1997) Comparison of the 16S ribosomal DNA sequences from the intracellular agents of proliferative enteritis in a hamster, deer, and ostrich with the sequence of a porcine isolate of Lawsonia intracellularis. Int J Syst Bacteriol 47(3):635-639
  3. Li X et al (1996) Coinfection with intracellular Desulfovibrio species and coccidia in ferrets with proliferative bowel disease. Lab Anim Sci 46(5):569-571
  4. Fox JG et al (1994) Intracellular Campylobacter-like organism from ferrets and hamsters with proliferative bowel disease is a Desulfovibrio sp. J Clin Microbiol 32(5):1229-1237
  5. Fox JG et al (1989) Proliferative colitis in ferrets: epithelial dysplasia and translocation. Vet Pathol 26(6):515-517
  6. Krueger KL et al (1989) Treatment of proliferative colitis in ferrets. J Am Vet Med Assoc 194(10):1435-1436