This information is provided by Provet for educational purposes only.

You should seek the advice of your veterinarian if your pet is ill as only he or she can correctly advise on the diagnosis and recommend the treatment that is most appropriate for your pet.

Note for Pet Owners:
Yersinia can be transmitted from animals to humans, and is therefore a ZOONOSIS. Transmission has been confirmed from dogs and cats to people.

Topics on this Page:

Yersiniosis is a bacterial disease that affects many species of animal including humans,cats, dogs, birds pigs, rodents, cavies (guinea pigs) and reptiles. Very few members of the public have heard of "Yersinia" but one of it's type (Yersinia pestis) is the organism that causes plague - which everyone has heard about !

Yersinia are gram-negative coccobacilli that live in the intestine - hence are one of the classified as "enterobacteria".

It can replicate at low temperatures which means that it can multiply in refrigerated foods. Heating food to 60o kills the organism.

Human infection is usually by one of the following routes :

  • Flea bites
  • Inoculation through the skin 
  • Inhalation
  • Ingestion

Yersiniosis is a bacterial disease that affects many species of animal including people, cats, dogs, birds pigs, rodents, cavies (guinea pigs), reptiles.

Humans most often contract the infection from :

  • Rodents
  • Pigs
  • Rabbits
  • Dogs
  • Cats

Human workers most at risk to contract this infection are :

  • Animal handlers
  • Workers in fields where the disease is endemic


People develop abdominal pain, diarrhoea, fever, septicaemia and skin rashes which are similar to, and therefore can be confused with, the clinical signs of appendicitis. With Yersinia pestis infection they also develop pneumonia , lymphadenopathy and disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC).

Y. pseudotuberculosis causes diarrhoea in many species during winter and spring - the incidence of Yersinia infection seems to be more prevalent during cold weather.

In cats and dogs Y. enterocolitica is thought to be a non-pathogenic commensal, but it causes illness in people…possibly transmitted from household pets. This organism has been isolated occasionally from young dogs with clinical signs of colitis. 

In cats pyogranulomatous lesions involving the intestinal tract, liver and lymph nodes has been described associated with Y.pseudotuberculosis, and this may be progressive and fatal.

Feline plague caused by Y.pestis occurs in many countries in Africa, Asia and the Americas, including the Western States of the USA. Rodents including ground and rock squirrels and prairie dogs are the natural hosts. In addition, rodent fleas (eg rabbit fleas) may transmit the organism to cats and people. Fleas can remain infected for many months. Following the bite of an infected flea the incubation period of the disease in the cat is 2-6 days, whereas it is 1-3 days following the ingestion of an infected rodent.

Clinical signs include :

  • Lymph node enlargement and abscessation (bubonic form) - most common
  • Fever
  • Depression
  • Anorexia
  • Dyspnoea due to pneumonia (pneumonic form - uncommon)
  • Oedema
  • Septic shock
  •  Disseminated intravascular coagulation

In Guinea pigs - Y. pseudotuberculosis causes an illness which may either :

    1. Cause sudden death within 48 hours due to acute septicaemia , OR
    2. Illness lasting about 3-4 weeks with diarrhoea, weight loss and death.
    3. Sometimes a non-fatal form occurs with the organism localised in the lymph nodes of the neck.

In humans Yersiniosis causes :

  • Enteritis and  colitis
  • Pharyngitis
  • Sepsis


Isolation of the organism from faeces does not necessarily confirm it is a cause of disease as it is often found in normal animals. Isolation from deep tissues (lymph nodes, wounds) urine or blood is much more likely to be significant. A special culture medium is needed to grow Yersinia.

Dogs - postmortem - chronic enteritis with mononuclear and plasma cell infiltration

Cats - postmortem- focal microabscesses and microthrombosis in the liver and spleen.

Guinea pigs - culture of Y.pseudotuberculosis from blood (septicaemia) or lymph nodes. At post-mortem get enlarged lymph nodes (mesenteric and abdominal) and focal necrosis of the liver and spleen.


Cats and dogs - Standard doses of antibiotics : Chloramphenicol, tetracycline, gentamycin, cephalosporins, trimethoprim-sulphonomide combinations.

Guinea pigs - because of the zoonosis risk , euthanasia is recommended. Sterilise habitat if it is to be re-used.

Generally good if treatment is started early.

Long term problems

Updated October 2013