Exotis ISSN 2398-2985


Helicobacter mustelae gastritis

Contributor(s): Cathy Johnson-Delaney, David Perpinan


  • This disease has many similarities with gastritis in humans caused by Helicobacter pylori.
  • The ferret has been used as an animal model for Helicobacter-associated illness. 
  • Cause: chronic gastritis (sometimes with duodenitis) and ulcers caused by the spiral bacteria Helicobacter mustelae.
  • Signs: asymptomatic; anorexia, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, melena, weight loss, abdominal pain, lethargy.
  • Diagnosis: hematology, biochemistry, serology, endoscopy, bacterial culture
  • Treatment: a combination of different drugs to prevent the development of resistance,
  • Prognosis: generally good.



  • Helicobacter mustelae is a gram-negative and curved bacteria, better visualized using silver stains such as the Warthin-Starry stain.
  • Prevalence of infection is variable, and some facilities in the USA have reported a prevalence of 100% in adult animals, while only a few ferrets younger than 6 weeks were infected; this is indicative of infection after weaning through the mother, that persists for the life of the ferret.
  • Most pet ferrets in the US originate from a commercial breeder and seem to have a high prevalence.
  • Much lower prevalences reported in other countries.
  • However, prevalence of infection is not completely correlated with development of disease.


  • Koch’s postulates have been fulfilled, and the oral administration of H. mustelae to ferrets free of this bacterium produces colonization, chronic gastritis and a rise in anti-H. mustelae antibody titer.
  • Histologic changes consist of superficial mononuclear gastritis in the body of the stomach and diffuse mononuclear gastritis in the pyloric antrum.
  • The highest number of bacteria are usually found in the pyloric antrum.
  • Ferrets free of H. mustelae do not have these lesions.
  • Severity of gastritis is correlated with the number of organisms.
  • In addition, some authors state that disease is more frequently seen in older animals, while other authors believe stressed young (3-5 months old) animals are more susceptible to the disease.
  • Infection by Helicobacer mustelae produce auto-antibodies, which can contribute to the development of gastritis.
  • It is possible that these auto-antibodies could also be implicated in the reactivity of spleen and mesenteric lymph nodes, although lymphoid tissue (particularly mesenteric) reacts significantly in ferrets with any inflammation.
  • The infection is also associated with hypochlorhydria and hypergastrinemia, and it has been observed that the hypochlorhydria caused by the administration of omeprazole increases fecal excretion of the bacteria.
  • Hypergastrinemia is linked to the development of gastric ulcers.
  • Chronic gastritis can lead to preneoplastic changes, and the infection with H. mustelae has been associated with gastric adenocarcinoma and lymphoma.
  • Transmission: fecal-oral.
  • Experimental infections do not necessarily correlate with clinical signs seen in spontaneously infected ferrets. Many pet ferrets may be asymptomatic.


  • Clinical disease not particularly common when considering the high prevalence of infection.


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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Johnson-Delaney C A (2005) The ferret gastrointestinal tract and Helicobacter mustelae infection. Vet Clin North Am Exotic Anim Pract 8 (2), 197-212 PubMed.
  • Lennox A M (2005) Gastrointestinal diseases of the ferret. Vet Clin North Am Exotic Anim Pract 8 (2), 213-225 VetClinExoticAnimPract.
  • Marini R P, Fox J G et al (1999) Ranitidine bismuth citrate and clarithromycin, alone or in cvombination, for eradication of Helicobacter mustelae infection in ferrets. Am J Vet Res 60 (10), 1280-1286 PubMed.
  • Erdman S E, Correa P, Coleman L A et al (1997) Helicobacter mustelae-associated gastric MALT lymphoma in ferrets. Am J Pathol 151 (1), 273-280 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Perpinan D & Johnson-Delaney C A (2017) Disorders of the Digestive System and Liver. In: Ferret Medicine and Surgery. Ed: Johnson-Delaney C A. CRC Press, USA. pp 159-190.
  • Maurer K J & Fox J G (2014) Diseases of the Gastrointestinal System. In: Biology and Diseases of the Ferret. 3rd edn. Wiley & Sons, Ames, USA. pp 363-375.
  • Hoefer H L, Fox J G & Bell J A (2012) Gastrointestinal Diseases. In: Ferrets, Rabbits and Rodents. 3rd edn. Eds: Quesenberry K E & Carpenter J W. Elsevier, St. Louis, USA. pp 27-45.
  • Burgess M E (2007) Ferret Gastrointestinal and Hepatic Diseases. In: Ferret Husbandry, Medicine and Surgery. 2nd edn. Saunders, Philadelphia, USA. pp 203-223.