Diseases / List of Bacterial Diseases / Disease description:

Colibacillosis (with special reference to Waterfowl, Cranes, Hedgehogs, Elephants, Lagomorphs, Ferrets and Great Apes and notes on Bears)










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General and References

Disease Summary

Localised and systemic diseases caused by Escherichia coli, including acute, frequently fatal septicaemic infection, enteritis and abscesses.
WATERFOWL Localised and systemic diseases caused by Escherichia coli, including acute, frequently fatal septicaemic infection (particularly of neonatal birds), salpingitis in domestic ducks and geese, and sinusitis.
CRANES Diarrhoea, yolk sac infection, septicaemia. (B197.9.w9, P1.1986.w4)
HEDGEHOGS Associated with neonatal diarrhoea and with abscesses.
ELEPHANTS Associated with neonatal diarrhoea and poor husbandry. (B64.27.w4)
BEARS Associated with neonatal septicaemia, and with gastritis and acute catarrhal enteritis in cubs. (P6.1.w5, P77.1.w19)
LAGOMORPHS Colibacillosis can cause epizootics of fatal enteropathy in rabbits. In most cases, Escherichia coli is thought to proliferate as a secondary response to a rabbit's altered intestinal environment. (B614.8.w8)
FERRETS Escherichia coli infection has been reported for various organ systems in domestic ferrets; severe intestinal colibacillosis with septicaemia has been reported 
GREAT APES Associated with diarrhoea, mainly in individuals being hand-reared, also air sacculitis and pneumonia.

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Alternative Names (Synonyms)

  • Escherichia coli septicaemia
  • Escherichia coli septicaemia
  • E. coli septicaemia
  • Coli bacillosis
  • Colisepticaemia
  • Colisepticemia
  • Escherichia coli enteritis

See also:

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Disease Type

 Bacterial Infection

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Infectious/Non-Infectious Agent associated with the Disease

  • Bacterium Escherichia coli, particularly type O78.
  • This is a facultative, anaerobic, Gram-negative bacillus. (B614.8.w8)
In hedgehogs
  • In hedgehogs, types O78 and O55 have been identified. (J18.38.w1)
In humans
  • There are three main types of pathogenic Escherichia coli that can produce diarrhoeal disease: enteroinvasive, enterotoxigenic, and enteropathogenic. (B614.8.w8)
In lagomorphs
  • Pathogenesis: 
    • Escherichia coli is usually not present in the intestine of healthy rabbits but it can proliferate in rabbits that have diarrhoea regardless of the primary aetiologic agent. (B614.8.w8)
    • Alterations in the caecal pH may be the cause in many cases. In the caecum of normal rabbits the pH is under 6.8 and undissociated volatile fatty acids will exert an inhibitory effect on Escherichia coli growth. In rabbits with diarrhoea, particularly in weanlings, the caecal pH often rises over 7. This favours the dissociation of the volatile fatty acids and thus their inhibitory effect is lost and Escherichia coli can proliferate. (B614.8.w8)
    • The key event in the pathogenesis of colibacillosis, without which disease will not occur, is the attachment of the bacteria to the mucosal surface and the effacement of epithelial cells - only enteropathogenic serotypes of Escherichia coli have this ability in rabbits. These serotypes of Escherichia are non-invasive and non toxigenic. (B614.8.w8)
    • Many serotypes have been associated with diarrhoea in rabbits:
      • In suckling rabbits - mainly 0109:H2. (B614.8.w8)
      • In weanling rabbits - the most pathogenic serotypes are 015:H- and 0103:H2. Other serotypes reported include: 020:H7, 0109:H2, 0128:H2, 0132:H2, and 0153. (B614.8.w8)
    • Isolates of enteropathogenic serotypes from suckling rabbits are reported to attach to the whole length of both the small and large intestines whereas the isolates from weanling rabbits are found attached only to the distal small intestine and the large intestine. (B614.8.w8)
    • Suckling isolates are only weakly pathogenic for weanlings and vice versa. (B614.8.w8)
    • Rabbit EPEC (RDEC-1) strain is most common. This is an attaching and effacing strain, with bacteria adhering via a fimbrial adhesin, causing brush border desctruction and enterocyte structural alterations. (J213.8.w2)
    • Escherichia coli isolates from normal healthy rabbits do not have the ability to attach to the mucosa nor efface the epithelial cells. (B614.8.w8)
    • Note: often occurs as a coinfection with other pathogens such as coccidia (Intestinal Coccidiosis in Hedgehogs and Lagomorphs (with notes on Bears)), rotavirus (Rotavirus Infection in Rabbits) or coronavirus (Rabbit Enteric Coronavirus Infection). (B601.8.w8)
In ferrets
  • Beta-hemolytic Escherichia coli strains. (J93.42.w3)

In Great Apes

Infective "Taxa"

Non-infective agents


Physical agents

-- Indirect / Secondary

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Disease Author

Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5), Nikki Fox BVSc MRCVS (V.w103), Joanne Osuagwuh BSc BVSc MSc MRCVS ( V.w147), Gracia Vila-Garcia DVM, MSc, MRCVS (V.w67)
Click image for main Reference Section


William Lewis BVSc CertZooMed MRCVS (V.w129)

Major References / Reviews

Code and Title List

B10.26.w10, B11.34.w2, B11.40.w8, B14, B16.19.w1, B21, B32.4.w26, B36.12.w12, B47
J6.10.w3, J6.24.w1
J36.41.w1, J36.44.w1

In Cranes:
B115.5.w6, B115.8.w4, B197.9.w9

In Hedgehogs:
B228.9.w9, B284.6.w6

In Elephants:
B64.27.w4, B214.3.7.w3, B450.13.w13

In Bears:
P6.1.w5, P77.1.w19

In Lagomorphs:
B600.10.w10, B601.8.w8, B602.17.w17, B614.8.w8

In Ferrets:

In Great Apes:
J4.161.w3, J4.177.w7

Other References

Code and Title List


In Great Apes:

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Clinical Characteristics and Pathology

Detailed Clinical and Pathological Characteristics



In Mammals
  • Pathogenic strains may cause diarrhoea in juveniles and more rarely adults, and death from acute enteritis without time for the development of diarrhoea in neonates. (B21, B47, B209.29.w29).

  • Pathogenic strains may also cause fulminating septicaemias in neonates/juveniles. (B21, B47)

  • In hedgehogs: Types O78 and O55 are often implicated in neonatal diarrhoea. (B284.6.w6)

In Birds
  • Pathogenic strains may cause outbreaks of mortality e.g. in birds attracted to artificial feeding stations. (J3.143.w3, P23.1999S.w3)
  • Pathogenic strains cause respiratory tract infections in poultry.(B47)
WATERFOWL Acute death, respiratory and nervous signs, or general septicaemic signs.

Clinical Characteristics

BIRDS Signs of enteric disease, air sacculitis, polyserositis, septicaemia or intestinal disease. (B336.71.w71)
  • Chronic respiratory disease, generally in conjunction with other pathogens. (B36.12.w12).
  • Acute infection and mortality may occur in unhygienic hatcheries. (B36.12.w12).
  • Air sac disease / chronic respiratory disease: in association with virus or mycoplasma infections. Signs include anorexia and can be fatal. (B32.4.w26)
    • Dyspnoea, cyanosis.(B13.33.w4)
    • Not prominent respiratory sounds. (B13.33.w4)
  • Colisepticaemia:
    • Acute onset lethargy and anorexia, with ruffled feathers, diarrhoea and polyuria. (B13.33.w4)
    • Pain and reluctance to move in survivors is seen with infection of the joints and particularly of the bone marrow. (B13.33.w4)
  • Enteritis: 
    • Diarrhoea, leading to dehydration and cachexia. (B13.33.w4)
  • Pseudomembranous/ulcerative enteritis:
    • Death;(B13.33.w4)
    • Non-specific enteritis. (B13.33.w4)
  • Coligranulomatosis (Hjaerre's disease):
    • Diarrhoea, polyuria, chronic weight loss.
    • Granulomatous dermatitis may occur.
    • (B13.33.w4)
  • Salpingitis:
    • Lack of egg production. (B12)
  • Sudden death, or signs of septicaemia: dullness, anorexia and diarrhoea, cyanosis.
  • Respiratory signs may be seen, with nasal discharge, dyspnoea, swelling of sinuses; also neurological signs of ataxia, leg weakness, paralysis, clonic spasms, head and neck tremors, rolling, coma.
  • Sinusitis, with swelling of infraorbital sinuses, may be seen without generalised infection (B11.34.w2).
  • Chronic salpingitis in domestic ducks and geese; may only be diagnosed at slaughter (J6.24.w1).
  • Lameness and foot lesion with localised foot infection (See also Bumblefoot).
  • Arthritis - swollen joints (J6.10.w3).

(J5.16.w3, B11.40.w8, B14, B16.19.w1).

  • Diarrhoea: 
    • Diarrhoea with pale green sticky faces. (B284.6.w6)
    • Faeces streaked with mucus and blood, or containing lumps of bright green jelly-like material or even frank pus (associated with haemolytic strains of Escherichia coli). (B284.6.w6)
    • May lead to dehydration and death. (B284.6.w6)
  • Abscesses: May occur at any site on the body. (B284.6.w6)
  • Diarrhoea: 
    • In neonates that do not receive colostrum. (B64.27.w4, D301.3.w3)
    • In young elephant in poor husbandry conditions. (B64.27.w4, D301.3.w3)
LAGOMORPHS Diarrhoea. (B600.10.w10)

Different syndromes of colibacillosis in rabbits include:

  • In suckling rabbits
    • Severe yellowish diarrhoea with high mortality (sometimes the entire litter can die). (B614.8.w8)
    • Severe watery diarrhoea with death of up to the whole litter. (B601.8.w8)
  • Weanling diarrhoea with high mortality 
    • Profuse liquid diarrhoea (B614.8.w8)
    • Dehydration (B614.8.w8)
    • Weight loss (B614.8.w8)
    • High mortality within five to fourteen days (B614.8.w8)
    • Rectal prolapse may occur. (B601.8.w8)
  • Weanling diarrhoea with low mortality
    • Mild diarrhoea without dehydration (B614.8.w8)
    • Transient growth retardation (B614.8.w8)
  • Pneumonia. (B602.17.w17)
  • Otitis media / interna (see: Bacterial Otitis Media - Interna in Lagomorphs)
FERRETS Escherichia coli may be involved in (B627):

Escherichia coli has been isolated from kit and adult ferrets with diarrhoea (J93.42.w3) as well as from ferrets with normal faeces. 

In Mustela nigripes - Black-footed ferret:

  • Anorexia with mucoid diarrhoea for 12-24 hours, then death. (J1.37.w13)
  • Dehydration. (J1.37.w13)
  • Sudden death. (J1.37.w13)


CRANES Can be very short; fatal intestinal infection was seen in a Grus leucogeranus - Siberian crane which died just 12 hours after hatching. (P92.1.w3)

Mortality / Morbidity

  • Common infection; usually clinical disease in only a small percentage of the population (J5.16.w3, B10.26.w10). Reported in 21.5% of waterfowl examined post mortem at Kortright Waterfowl Park, Ontario, Canada (J14.29.w1).
  • Infection associated with egg peritonitis, metritis or oophoritis may result in significant morbidity and infertility (P4.1992.w1).


  • Diarrhoea due to Escherichia coli infection is seen most commonly in hoglets. (B284.6.w6)
  • Mortality may occur due to dehydration associated with neonatal diarrhoea. (B284.6.w6)
  • Variable severity; mortality may be 50 - 100%. (J213.8.w2)
    • In suckling rabbits with a specific enteropathogenic strain, up to 100% mortality. (B601.8.w8)
    • Post-weaning, up to 50% mortality. (B601.8.w8)
  • Prognosis is guarded to poor, depending on the rabbit's immunocompetence, bacterial strain and any synergistic infections. (J213.8.w2)
  • Small numbers of the most pathogenic Escherichia coli serotypes can induce diarrhoea and lead to over 50% mortality. (B614.8.w8)

Different syndromes of colibacillosis in rabbits include:

  • Neonatal diarrhoea with high mortality (serotype 0109:H2)
  • Weanling diarrhoea with high mortality (serotypes 0103:H2 or 015:H)
  • Weanling diarrhoea with low mortality (serotypes 0123, 0128, 0132 and others)




Gross pathology:
  • Colisepticaemia:
    • Body cavities: Fibrinous polyserositis with chronic infection. (B13.33.w4)
      • Pericarditis, perihepatitis: these normally transparent membranes become thickened and are white or yellow. The liver may be swollen, dark and sometimes stained with bile. (B36.12.w12).
    • Ocular lesions (uveitis, or fibrin exudate in the anterior chamber) occur occasionally. (B13.33.w4)
    • Joints: Serofibrinous arthritis in some individuals. (B13.33.w4)
    • GIT: Catarrhal enteritis (this is non-specific). (B13.33.w4)
  • Enteritis: 
    • Catarrhal enteritis. (B13.33.w4)
  • Pseudomembranous/ulcerative enteritis:
    • Pseudomembranous or ulcerative enteritis. (B13.33.w4)
  • Coligranulomatosis (Hjaerre's disease):
    • Intestinal subserosa: greyish foci, varying in size, may have a mineralised centre. (B13.33.w4)
    • Liver: greyish foci, varying in size, may have a mineralised centre. (B13.33.w4)
    • Kidney: greyish foci, varying in size, may have a mineralised centre. (B13.33.w4)
    • Spleen: greyish foci, varying in size, may have a mineralised centre. (B13.33.w4)
  • Air sac disease / chronic respiratory disease: 
    • Fibrinous polyserositis
    • Rarely pneumonia (except in geese)
    • (B13.33.w4)
  • Salpingitis:
    • Salpingoperitonitis. (B13.33.w4)
  • Colisepticaemia:
    • Liver: Serofibrinous inflammation; plasma cell infiltration (B13.33.w4)
    • Kidneys: Serofibrinous inflammation; plasma cell infiltration. (B13.33.w4)
  • Coligranulomatoisis: central necrotic region surrounded by multinucleated giant halls and a few heterophils. (B13.33.w4)
Gross Pathology:
  • Septicaemia:
    May be minimal post mortem changes with acute septicaemia.
    Serosal surfaces -
    fibrinous to caseous "curd-like" exudate, cream to greenish - pericarditis, perihepatitis, airsacculitis, sometimes peritonitis
    Lungs -
    lungs reddened and fluid-filled (consolidation and oedema)
    - ecchymoses, hydropericardium, fibrinous pericarditis
    Hepatic - liver enlarged, sometimes dark, bile stained; sometimes granulomas.
    Spleen -
    enlarged, dark, sometimes necrotic
  • Enteritis - upper small intestine severely inflamed, thickened and congested; clotted blood filling lumen (J36.44.w1).
  • Chronic cholecystitis - gross thickening necrosis of walls of gall bladder and bile duct (J36.44.w1).
  • Reproductive system - salpingitis, with or without peritonitis, following entry of bacteria from the cloaca or spread of infection from the left abdominal air sac (J6.24.w1, B32.4.w26).
  • Sinusitis - clear (usually) mucus filling and distending infraorbital sinuses (B11.34.w2).
  • Arthritis - Swelling of affected joint. Joint distended with accumulated exudate. Frequently thickened joint capsule. Inflammation of periarticular soft tissues and tendon sheaths. Exudate may be cloudy, fibrino-purulent and red-brown, or sometimes dryish and yellow-grey. Articular cartilage degenerated and necrotic, sometimes extending to affect subchondral bone.
  • May also be involved in Omphalitis / Yolk-sacculitis (Omphalitis / Yolk Sacculitis) (J2.23.w1).
  • Septicaemia - Liver and kidneys - serofibrinous inflammation, plasma cell infiltrate.
  • Salpingitis - sub-epithelial accumulation of heterophils in the oviduct.

Amyloidosis may also be seen secondary to chronic infection (B39.w1).

(J5.16.w3, J36.41.w1, B10.26.w10, B14, B32.4.w26, B36.12.w12)

  • Enteritis. (P87.1975.w2)
  • Omphalitis/yolk sacculitis. (B12.56.w14, B115.5.w6, P1.1986.w4)
Gross Pathology
  • Enteritis; the small intestine may be normal but the caecum and colon inflamed. (B600.10.w10)
  • Ileum, caecum and colon: thickening of the wall and there may be paintbrush haemorrhages on the serosal surface. Caecal contents are brown and watery. (B614.8.w8)
  • Mesenteric lymph nodes: may be swollen. (B614.8.w8)
  • With post-weaning colibacillosis, usually mainly typhlitis and colitis. Caecal wall amrked with characteristic "paintbrush" haemorrhages, and contents are blood-stained. (B601.8.w8)
    • Intussusception may be present. (B601.8.w8)
    • Rectal prolapse may be present. (B601.8.w8)
  • In affected portions of intestine there is atrophy and fusion of villi. (B614.8.w8)
  • Flattened and disorganised epithelial cells. (B614.8.w8)
  • Ulcers but the basement membrane is frequently intact. (B614.8.w8)
  • There is commonly submucosal oedema and polymorphonuclear leucocytes infiltration of the lamina propria. (B614.8.w8)
  • Numerous coliform bacilli attached to the epithelium particularly overlying Peyer's patches. (B614.8.w8)
  • Smears from the small intestines of affected neonates may show large numbers of gram-positive rods. (B600.10.w10)
FERRETS In Mustela nigripes - Black-footed ferret:
Gross pathology
  • GIT: Diffuse reddening of the gastric mucosa (one adult) or gastric and intestinal mucosa (one adult). (J1.37.w13)
  • No gross pathology in three kits and two of four adults examined. (J1.37.w13)
  • GIT: Gastric and intestinal mucosa, no lesions or mild congestion. On the surface of the intestinal villi, large numbers of Gram-negative bacteria. (J1.37.w13)
  • Pulmonary: In kits, mild interstitial hypercellularity (macrophage and neutrophil numbers increased). (J1.37.w13)
  • Culture: From rectal swabs, stomach, small intestine, liver, kidney and spleen, haemolytic Escherichia coli cultured. PCR positive for the heat stable toxin genes A (STa) and B (STb); one isolate negative for these but positive for the cytotoxic necrotizing factor gene. (J1.37.w13) 
Gross pathology
  • General: Second chimpanzee thin and dehydrated. (J4.161.w3)
  • GIT:
    • In first chimpanzee, tract distended. Serosa completely haemorrhagic in some areas and withh petechiae and ecchymoses in other setions. Gastric and small intestinal mucosa completely haemorrhagic. Colonic mucosa contained scattered haemorrhages. Stomach and small intestines contained a large amount of bloody fluid. (J4.161.w3)
    • In second chimpanzee, Gastric mucosa congested with scattered petechiae; stomach empty. Small intestinal mucosa congested, only mucus in the small intestine. Colonic and caecal mucosa haemorrhagic; blood-stained mucus in colon. (J4.161.w3)
  • Splenic: In first chimpanzee Splenic enlargement and congestion; friable. (J4.161.w3)
  • Lymph nodes:
    • In both chimpanzees, mesenteric lymph nodes enlarged and congested. (J4.161.w3)
    • In first chimpanzee: hilar lymph nodes slightly enlarged. (J4.161.w3)
  • Respiratory:
    • In first chimpanzee lungs large, oedematous and haemorrhagic with diffuse consolidation. On sectioning, large quantities of serosanguinous fluid produced. Trachea and bronchioles filled with frothy serosanguinous fluid. (J4.161.w3)
    • In second chimpanzee lungs congested, scattered haemorrhagic areas. (J4.161.w3)
  • Cardiac: In first chimpanzee, epicardium and endocardium, scattered petechiae. (J4.161.w3)

In a 14-year-old female Pongo pygmaeus - Orang-utan:

  • Respiratory: the air sacs contained about 500 mL brown, turbid fluid, which was also found throughout the tracheobronchiolar tree and the nose. The air sac walls and medium septum were thickened, with the inner surface haemorrhagic and nodular. The lungs were consolidated. (J4.177.w7)
  • GIT:
    • In first chimpanzee, gastric mucosa extensive haemorrhage and necrosis, presence of numerous colonies of bacilli. Small and large intestial mucosa, variable congestion, haemorrhage and necrosis, plus large numbers of bacteria. (J4.161.w3)
    • In second chimpanzee, gastric and intestinal mucosa, congestion with areas of haemorrhage and necrosis. Colonic mucosa, extensive mucosal haemorrhage, necrosis and acute infiltrate of inflammatory cells. (J4.161.w3)
  • Respiratory: In first chimpanzee, pulmonary diffuse haemorrhage, oedema and necrosis, with large numbers of bacteria present. (J4.161.w3)
  • Bacterial detection/Culture:
    • First chimpanzee: serotype O119:B14 Escherichia coli isolated from lungs, stomach, duodenum, ileum, colon, liver. (J4.161.w3)
    • Second chimpanzee: Bacilli in lungs, heart, liver, spleen, lymph nodes, kidneys and adrenals. (J4.161.w3)

In a 14-year-old female Pongo pygmaeus - Orang-utan:

  • Pulmonary: the air sac lining showed mucosal ulceration, chronic inflammation of the submucosa, mural fibrosis and fibrinous inflammatory exudate. The larynx and trachea showed similar lesions. Pulmonary alveloar infiltration with neutrophils was widespread, with dense inflammatory infiltrate around the bronchi; focal necrosis and aggregates of rod-shaped bacteria were found. (J4.177.w7)
  • Lymph nodes: lymphoid hyperplasia, non-specific. (J4.177.w7)
  • Uterus, placenta, aborted fetus: No signs of infection. (J4.177.w7)

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Human Health Considerations

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Susceptibility / Transmission

General information on Susceptibility / Transmission

  • E. coli is a common gastrointestinal tract inhabitant. Various factors may lead to development of disease. (B336.71.w71)
  • Healthy birds with intact defences are resistant even to virulent strains. Disease may occur associated with:
    • Compromised skin or mucosa (including wounds, unhealed navel, mucosal damage due to other infection, lack of normal mucosal flora);
    • Impaired mono-nuclear/phagocytic system, due to viral infection, toxin or nutritional deficiencies;
    • Immunosuppression (e.g. due to viral infection or toxins);
    • Overwhelming infection due to environmental contamination, poor ventilation (including build-up pf ammonia) or contaminated water;
    • Abnormal stress levels.
    • (B32.4.w26)
  • Neonate and juvenile animals are more susceptible than adults.(B32.4.w26, B47)
    • The immune status of the newborn animal is a critical factor in determining the susceptibility of neonates; animals which have failed to absorb adequate immunoglobulins from their mother have a much higher susceptibility. (B47)
  • Stress and other predisposing conditions increase susceptibility. (B336.71.w71)
  • Birds are predisposed to development of respiratory colibacillosis by infection with other pathogens. (B36.12.w12)
  • Oiled birds (see Oiling) may develop either localised or generalised colibacillosis. (P4.1990.w1)
  • A low protein diet may increase susceptibility. (B32.4.w26)
  • Faecal contamination, e.g. of water, is important in transmission. (B47).
  • Faecal contamination of eggs is an important transmission route causing yolk sac infection resulting in death before or soon after hatching (see: Omphalitis - Yolk-sacculitis in Waterfowl )(B32.4.w26)
BIRDS The role of bird feeders, including hanging feeders as well as bird tables, in spreading enteric pathogens must not be forgotten. Hygiene is important to reduce the risk of such feeders becoming contaminated (P23.1999S.w3)
  • All species (B10.26.w10).
  • Disease is usually seen in conjunction with other infections, and may also be seen with overwhelming infection, excessive stress or reduced immune defences (e.g. ammonia, dust reduce resistance to respiratory infection); generally seen in juveniles, which are more susceptible than adults (J5.16.w3, B32.4.w26, B36.12.w12).
  • Ingestion, or through compromised mucosal barriers or skin. (B10.26.w10, B32.4.w26).
  • Faeco-oral route. (J213.8.w2)
CRANES Susceptibility:
  • Chicks of three to six days of age are particularly susceptible to developing diarrhoea due to Eschericia coli infection. (B12.56.w14) at about six days old, whether parent or hand-reared. (B115.5.w6)
  • In general, bacterial diseases are seen in cranes which are predisposed to infection due to population or environmental stressors. (B336.20.w20)
    • Chilling of young chicks (less than 15 days old) (Chilling / Hypothermia) commonly is followed by development of diarrhoea. (B12.56.w14)
  • Neonates that do not receive colostrum are more susceptible. (B64.27.w4)
  • Conditions of poor sanitation are more likely to expose young elephants to high concentrations of Escherichia coli. (B10.49.w21, B64.27.w4)
  • Age: colibacillosis occurs in:
    • One- to two-week-old suckling rabbits. (B614.8.w8, J213.8.w2)
    • Weanling rabbits, four- to six-week-old weanling rabbits (the most commonly affected). (B614.8.w8); two- to four-month old rabbits. (J213.8.w2)
  • Clinical signs are most likely to occur in rabbits stressed by weaning, transport or overcrowding. (J213.8.w2)
  • In most cases, Escherichia coli is thought to proliferate as a secondary response to a rabbit's altered intestinal environment. (B614.8.w8)
  • In a primate research centre, all clinically affected apes were less than two years old and all but one were being hand-reared; deaths occurred only in infants under three weeks of age. (J4.161.w3)
  • A Pongo pygmaeus - Orang-utan with diarrhoea, from which O157 (H7) ETEC was cultured was being hand-reared. (P6.2.w13)
  • Faeco-oral transmission. (B336.39.w39)

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Disease has been reported in either the wild or in captivity in:

In Waterfowl
  • Lesser Magellan goose (upland goose) Chloephaga picta - Yolk-sacculitis (Omphalitis / Yolk Sacculitis). (J2.23.w1)
  • Wild mute swan Cygnus olor in the UK; respiratory infection. (J36.41.w1)
  • Wild mute swans Cygnus olor in Scotland, UK, one with enteritis, the other with chronic cholecystitis and peritonitis. (J36.44.w1)
  • Captive wild-trapped canvasbacks Aythya valisineria apparently associated with weight loss and general stress due to confinement. (J1.12.w5)
  • Domestic ducks and geese with salpingitis. (J6.24.w1, B32.4.w26)
  • Domestic ducklings with septicaemia or yolk sacculitis and septicaemia. (J5.16.w3, B32.4.w26)
  • Domestic ducks with arthritis. (J6.10.w3)
  • Various waterfowl at the Kortright Waterfowl Park, Ontario, Canada. (J14.29.w1)
In Cranes
  • In chicks with diarrhoea. (B115.5.w6)
  • In chicks with omphalitis (see: Omphalitis). (B115.5.w6)
  • Fatal intestinal infection in a Grus leucogeranus - Siberian crane, just 12 hours after hatching. (P92.1.w3)
  • Syngamiasis plus coli-septicaemia was considered to be the cause of death in three Balearica pavonina gibbericeps [Balearica regulorum gibbericeps] (Balearica regulorum - Grey crowned-crane), although the birds were also parasitised by Haemoproteus balearicae at 1-10%. All the birds were from a collection in Surrey, England, having recently been imported from East Africa. (J65.21.w1)
In Hedgehogs
  • In young hand-reared hedgehogs Erinaceus europaeus in the UK. (B284.6.w6)
  • In 16/410 hedgehogs Erinaceus europaeus presented for post mortem examination in Germany. (J138.61.w1)
In Elephants
  • Reported in neonates and young calves, (species not specified). (B64.27.w4)
  • Haemolytic Escherichia coli was isolated from the small intestine of a zoo elephant frequently fed by the public. (B214.3.7.w3)
In Bears
In Lagomorphs
In Ferrets
  • Escherichia coli has been isolated from domestic ferrets with infections of various organs. (B627)
  • Enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli enteritis with septicaemia was seen in a group of Mustela nigripes - Black-footed ferrets. (J1.37.w13)

In Great Apes

Further information on Host species has only been incorporated for species groups for which a full Wildpro "Health and Management" module has been completed (i.e. for which a comprehensive literature review has been undertaken). Host species with further information available are listed below:

Host Species List


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Disease has been specifically reported in Free-ranging populations of:

  • Wild mute swan Cygnus olor in the UK; respiratory infection. (J36.41.w1)
  • Wild mute swans Cygnus olor in Scotland, UK, one with enteritis, the other with chronic cholecystitis and peritonitis. (J36.44.w1)
  • Wild birds (Carduelis spinus – siskins, Carduela chloris - greenfinches and Fringilla coelebs - chaffinches. (P23.1999S.w3)

Further information on Host species has only been incorporated for species groups for which a full Wildpro "Health and Management" module has been completed (i.e. for which a comprehensive literature review has been undertaken). Host species with further information available are listed below:

Host Species List

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General Information on Environmental Factors/Events and Seasonality

  • Associated with poor hygiene, dry and dusty conditions, inadequate ventilation, extremes of temperature, restricted access to food and water. (B11.40.w8, B32.4.w26, B36.12.w12, B47)
  • In domestic duck flocks, coliform septicaemia is seen most frequently in late autumn and winter, and with unhygienic environments. (J5.16.w3, B32.4.w26)

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Regions / Countries where the Infectious Agent or Disease has been recorded

Escherichia coli is found worldwide in the lower intestines of most mammals and birds; usually in greater abundance in the guts of carnivorous and omnivorous species than in herbivores. (B32.4.w26, B47)

In lagomorphs

  • In USA: enteropathogenic Escherichia coli serotype 015:H has been reported in rabbits. (B614.8.w8)
  • In France: 0130:H2 is the most commonly reported serotype of enteropathogenic Escherichia coli in rabbits. (B614.8.w8)
  • In Belgium: 015:H-, 0128:H2, and 0132:H2 are the most common serotypes of enteropathogenic Escherichia coli in rabbits. (B614.8.w8)

In ferrets

In great apes

  • In a group in the USA. (J4.161.w3)

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Regions / Countries where the Infectious Agent or Disease has been recorded in Free-ranging populations

UK. (J36.41.w1, J36.44.w1)

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General Investigation / Diagnosis

General Information on Investigation / Diagnosis

Clinical signs (in all taxa):
  • Enteric colibacillosis may be suspected in animals with profuse watery white to yellow faeces.
  • Septicaemia (colibacillosis or due to other bacteria) is indicated by anorexia, fever and progressive depression.
  • Primary infections at various sites may be indicated by signs of inflammation at those sites.


  • Except for intestinal disease, routine microbiological culture may be useful. (B336.71.w71)
  • For intestinal infection, culture may be less useful. (B336.71.w71)
  • Gross lesions of sepsis are not specific. Depending on the strain of E. coli involved, lesions may range from fluid distention of the intestines to severe mucosal necrosis and haemorrhage. (B336.71.w71)
  • In some species, PCR may be used to detect virulence genes. (B336.71.w71)

In Birds:

Post mortem findings:

  • Polyserositis and formation of granulomas are indicative of colibacillosis. (B13.33.w4)


  • Culture of the organism from affected tissues is required for specific diagnosis. (B13.33.w4)
  • Bacterial isolation from infected tissue, and identification. E. coli may be recovered from all organs in cases of septicaemia, e.g. heart blood, liver, spleen, gall bladder, brain. (J5.16.w3, B10.26.w10, B14, B16.19.w1, B21, B47)
In cranes 
  • Culture of Escherichia coli in association with clinical signs. (B115.5.w6)
    • Note that Escherichia coli can be cultured from faeces of healthy chicks. (B115.5.w6)

In Lagomorphs:

Presumptive diagnosis:

  • Isolation of Escherichia coli in faeces of rabbits with diarrhoea. (J213.8.w2)
    • Note: non-pathogenic strain Eschericia coli overgrowth may occur in rabbits with dysbiosis due to other causes. (Escherichia coli)
  • Demonstration of bacterial attachment and effacement of the intestinal epithelium. Other lesions are frequently present as well but they are not as specific and are easily confused with lesions of enterotoxaemia (see: Clostridial Enteritis and Enterotoxicosis in Rabbits). (B614.8.w8)

Definitive diagnosis:

In Ferrets:
In Great Apes:
  • Culture from faeces, and from organs of individuals with fatal infection; histopathology revealed the presence of numerous bacilli associated with lesions. (J4.161.w3)
  • In an adult female Pongo pygmaeus - Orang-utan., culture of samples from the trachea and heart blood. Pure growth of Escherichia coli. (J4.177.w7)
  • Note: Eschericia coli is commonly found in the normal intestinal flora. (B644.2.w2)
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Similar Diseases (Differential Diagnosis)

  • Other causes of diarrhoea, including other bacterial infections, parasitic infections, gastro-intestinal foreign bodies, and reactions to medications. (B115.5.w6)
  • Salmonella sp. (Salmonellosis) also cause septicaemia in crane chicks. (P1.1986.w4)
FERRETS Diarrhoea may be seen due to a variety of diseases including:
GREAT APES Diarrhoea and dysentery may also occur with:

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Treatment and Control

Specific Medical Treatment

  • Oral antibiotics for purely intestinal infection. (B13.33.w4)
  • Parenteral antibiotics. (B13.33.w4)
WATERFOWL Antibiotics, depending on sensitivity, e.g. oxytetracyclines, chloramphenicol, streptomycin (B10.26.w10, B11.40.w8, B16.19.w1).
  • Appropriate antibiotics. (B115.5.w6, P1.1986.w4)
  • For Escherichia coli diarrhoea:
HEDGEHOGS Antibiotics, depending on sensitivity testing (D107):
LAGOMORPHS Antibiotic therapy
  • Broad-spectrum antibiotics initially, e.g. (J213.8.w2)
    • ceftazidine;
    • Trimethoprim-sulphadoine (Sulphonamide) (Delvoprim Coject) 48 mg/kg subcutanously once daily.
    • Trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (Co-trimoxazole suspension) 30 mg/kg orally twice daily.
  • Ideally, base antibiotic treatment on culture and sensitivity testing. (J213.8.w2)
  • Rabbit isolates of Escherichia coli are reported to be susceptible to various antibiotics including amoxicillin, ampicillin, gentamicin and colistin. (B614.8.w8)
  • Ideally use an antibiotic that has minimal activity against gram-positive bacteria so the re-establishment of normal intestinal flora is interfered with as little as possible. (B614.8.w8)
  • Neomycin and chloramphenicol have each been used successfully against serotype 015H-. (B614.8.w8)
  • Prognosis: in severe cases treatment is not likely to be rewarding, however in weanlings with mild diarrhoea treatment can be worthwhile. (B614.8.w8)
  • Aggressive parenteral and oral antibiotic treatment. (B336.39.w39, J4.161.w3)
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General Nursing and Surgical Techniques

  • Ensure a diet giving good nutrition. (B13.33.w4)
  • Avian strains of lactobacilli to lower the intestinal pH. (Mammalian strains of lactobacillus may be given but require large quantities over three to four weeks to be effective) (B13.33.w4)
  • Lactulose may be given to lower the intestinal pH. (B13.33.w4)
WATERFOWL For sinusitis: flush with enrofloxacin (Baytril 2.5%, Bayer); repeat daily until mucus production stops (B11.34.w2).
  • Fluid therapy is essential. (D107)
  • Buscopan (Boehringer Ingelheim Limited) is recommended (0.1-0.2 mL/kg no more frequently than every eight hours, not for prolonged use) if squeals indicate that the hedgehog is suffering from intestinal cramping. (D107)
  • Probiotics, digestive enzymes, vitamins and Kaolin may also be useful in the treatment of gastrointestinal bacterial infections. (D107)
  • Supportive care, such as fluid therapy and nursing. (B10.49.w21, B64.27.w4)
  • Supportive care. (B614.8.w8)
  • Aggressive fluid therapy starting as soon as possible. (J213.8.w2)
  • Loperamide hydrochloride has been used successfully in conjunction with fluid therapy in adult New Zealand white rabbits. (J213.8.w2)
  • A high fibre diet is a useful therapeutic measure. (B614.8.w8)
  • Aggressive oral rehydration/electrolyte therapy. (B336.39.w39, J4.161.w3)
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Preventative Measures

Vaccination WATERFOWL --
LAGOMORPHS There is no commercially available vaccine but two studies have shown that immunisation can prevent disease. (B614.8.w8)
Prophylactic Treatment


  • Probiotics in first two weeks of life. (B11.40.w8)
LAGOMORPHS A high fibre diet is a useful preventive measure. (B614.8.w8)
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Environmental and Population Control Measures

General Environment Changes, Cleaning and Disinfection Identification and correction of predisposing causes of colibacillosis are essential for adequate control of the disease. (B32.4.w26)

General attention to hygiene and avoidance of overcrowding are important in reducing the risk of infection. (B47, B336.71.w71)

  • Ventilation and humidity control as well as attention to environmental contamination may be important in control of this disease in birds. (B336.71.w71)

Hygiene is important to reduce the risk of bird feeders becoming contaminated (P23.1999S.w3)

  • Move feeding stations regularly, avoid feeding at the same site continuously. (D48)
  • Avoid using suspended feeders with sills on which food particles and droppings may collect. (D48)
  • Clean up discarded feed and droppings from under suspended feeders and bird tables regularly e.g. by sweeping, and dispose of hygienically (incineration is ideal). (D48)
  • Brush bird tables or other surfaces used for feeding daily. (D48)
  • Thoroughly clean bird feeders/tables regularly (as appropriate for speed of build up of droppings) and daily during a disease outbreak. (D48)
  • Wash or soak feeders/tables using a 5% sodium hypochlorite solution or a safe disinfectant (e.g. Tamodine-E, Vetark), followed by thorough rinsing. (D48)
  • Use fresh, good-quality foods, dispose of uneaten food hygienically. (D48)
  • Store foods carefully in rodent-proof containers. (D48)


  • Improve general hygiene. (B10.26.w10, B11.40.w8)
  • Ensure good incubator hygiene and disinfection. (P92.1.w3)
  • Strict hygiene is essential to control neonatal enteritis, including sterilisation of equipment. (B284.6.w6)
  • Facilities should be thoroughly sanitised. (B614.8.w8)
FERRETS Good hygiene and appropriate environment (bedding, humidity, ventilation) reduce the risk of infection in neonatal ferrets. (B627.10.w10)
Population Control Measures WATERFOWL
  • Minimise stress in neonates. (B11.40.w8)
  • Severely affected animals should be culled. (B614.8.w8)
Isolation, Quarantine and Screening WATERFOWL --
  • Isolation of infected individuals is important to control spread of neonatal enteritis. (B284.6.w6)
  • Rabbit carcasses used for feeding should be inspected for signs of disease.
  • Prepared rations used for feeding Mustela nigripes - Black-footed ferrets (an endangered species) may be screened by feeding to domestic ferrets first. (J1.37.w13)
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