Three types of clostridial organisms commonly affect swine.

There are many causes of diarrhea in newborn piglets. Each organism has a period of time when it is prevalent in the growth stage of a pig. The clostridium family of organisms is no exception.

In swine, we deal primarily with Clostridium perfringens types A and C and Clostridium difficile. Since cross protection doesn't factor in, sorting out which isolate(s) a farm has is very important.

Clostridium perfringens type C has caused diarrhea in newborn piglets for many decades. It is often referred to as “Type C” scours. There is an acute and chronic form. The acute form happens soon after birth. In many cases, mortality can reach 30-70% within 24 hours after birth. There is often a bloody appearance to the diarrhea, and pigs have a classic intestinal lesion identifiable by a postmortem exam. The acute form occurs in piglets born to dams with little or no immunity to Clostridium perfringens type C.

The chronic form of Clostridium perfringens type C usually will occur later in lactation. The signs begin at 10-14 days of age. This diarrhea is not bloody and the classic gut lesion no longer exists.

Clostridium perfringens type A and Clostridium difficile infections have been recognized for 10 years. Both have a common clinical history and in some units occur together. Both organisms cause severe diarrhea in piglets less than 3 days of age. Mortality is normally low, but pigs are stunted, small and uneven at weaning, which can carry into finishing. These pigs are wet, chilled and covered with feces.


Management techniques may actually aid the growth of these organisms. Feedback has been a concern on problem farms. If feedback is too close to farrowing, the sows still shed clostridia into the feces and expose the piglets.

In clostridial cases, we either discontinue feedback or move it back to at least five weeks before farrowing. Broad-spectrum or long-acting antibiotic treatments at birth have also been a concern as the antibiotic may inhibit normal intestinal bacteria from becoming established.

Case Study No. 1

A single-site, 200-sow, farrow-to-finish unit was experiencing diarrhea and high mortality in newborn piglets. The diarrhea was blood-tinged and mortality ranged from 5-60% by 3 days of age.

Postmortem examination of recently deceased piglets revealed classic Clostridium perfringens type C lesions in the small intestine of numerous piglets, confirmed by culture results.

All pigs 0-3 days of age were treated with procaine penicillin because clostridial organisms are very sensitive to penicillin. The farm began to treat all newborn piglets with Clostridium perfringens type C antitoxin. The antitoxin is serum that contains antibodies to clostridium. These antibodies give immediate protection to the piglets, but the protection is short lived.

As per label directions, BMD (Alpharma Animal Health) was added to the lactation ration at 250 g./ton to decrease shedding from the sows. BMD is labeled for type C only. Sows due to farrow were vaccinated with a commercial clostridium perfringens type C vaccine at five and two weeks prefarrow. The immunity from colostrum is long-term immunity.

When piglets were born from these vaccinated sows, we discontinued the use of antitoxin with no adverse effects. Clostridium perfringens type C is so common it is a part of a normal prefarrow vaccination for most units.

Case Study No. 2

A 1,500-sow unit called about diarrhea in newborn piglets. In the previous week, the sow farm saw an explosion of diarrhea in piglets as early as 24 hours after birth. Approximately 40% of litters were affected and gilt litters seemed to be more severe.

Normal treatment protocols for diarrhea were ineffective. Piglets were dirty and wet in a very nice facility with plastic flooring and heat lamps. Preweaning mortality had risen from 9-16%.

Postmortem examinations on numerous piglets showed relatively normal small intestines with fluid-filled large intestines. Culture results showed both Clostridium perfringens type A and Clostridium difficile isolates. These isolates were used to make an autogenous prefarrowing vaccine.

With vaccination, the preweaning mortality returned to normal. The sow farm performed well for about 11 months when similar signs appeared. Another Clostridium perfringens type A was added to the prefarrowing vaccine with good results again.

Clostridial infections in piglets are common. Distinguishing which organism your unit is dealing with is the key to control. Clostridial diseases don't generally lessen with time, so consult your veterinarian for a diagnosis, treatment and prevention protocol for profitable pork production.