Through all the changes we have seen regarding raising pigs over the years, one thing has not changed. Baby pigs are still challenged with diarrhea. Baby pig diarrhea has been a part of raising pigs since Noah took the first sow off the Ark. Diagnostic tests have been developed to determine causes. Creative vaccine protocols have been developed for prevention. Farrowing crates have been developed to maximize piglet comfort to reduce environmental stresses and prevent exposure to infectious organisms.

But baby pig diarrhea remains costly. Studies have shown that one day of scours in the first week of life will extend days to market up to seven days.

Over the years, there have been many different causes for piglet diarrhea. From viruses to bacteria to protozoa, all can cause significant problems, and all require different treatment and prevention protocols. Using science and technology, we have been able to find solutions.

But there always seems to be a new development. In recent years, Clostridium perfringens Type A and Clostridium difficile are two bacteria that are causing diarrhea and adding challenges in our farrowing rooms.

Case Study No. 1

In July 2009, the owner of a 1,500-sow, farrow-to-finish farm that farrows weekly and has offsite nursery and finishers reported that 20% of the litters were experiencing a watery diarrhea at 1-2 days of age across all sow parities. The piglets didn’t respond well to antibiotics, but death loss was low. However, the pigs lost considerable body condition and were much lighter than the other pigs at weaning.

We submitted four newly affected pigs for a diagnostic evaluation, and recommended a manure feedback program to the sows prior to farrowing. The laboratory isolated Clostridium perfringens Type A. We formulated a farm-specific vaccine and included it into the prefarrowing vaccination protocol at this farm.

Three weeks after the feedback protocol was started, there was some improvement. Vaccinated sows farrowed a couple of weeks later, and another reduction occurred. We reduced disease incidence to about 2%.

Case Study No. 2

A 3,400-sow, farrow-to-finish farm weans about 1,400 pigs/week to offsite wean-to-finish barns. Overall production is good; preweaning mortality averages 9-10%.

About three years ago, we identified Clostridium perfringens Type A, and added a farm-specific vaccine to their prefarrowing vaccination protocol. This seemed to keep the problem under control until a few months ago, when there was a slight increase in the incidence of piglet diarrhea.

The manure feedback procedures were reviewed, and it was determined the protocol was not being followed consistently. We reemphasized its importance, and it has helped drop incidence back down.

Case Study No. 3

Last February, a 1,200-sow, breed-to-wean farm broke with porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS), resulting in increased abortions, and preweaning mortality climbed from 11% to over 20%.

Diarrhea was common, and multiple postmortem examinations were done to address the problems. In about 50% of the pigs, the spiral colon had a considerable amount of fluid accumulation around it. This is characteristic of Clostridium difficile infections. The laboratory confirmed the diagnosis.

To deal with this issue, we treated the pigs with a couple of different antibiotics, but did not appear to get much of a response. We also went through the farrowing rooms and made sure the pigs were not being chilled, split- suckled litters to ensure all received adequate colostrum, and delayed pig processing to Day 4.

In our opinion, it seems as if many of the diarrhea problems are set off by external factors, suggesting that our first responsibility should be to eliminate as many of those variables as possible. In this situation, PRRS was stressing the sows and piglets, and made them susceptible to Clostridium difficile. As the PRRS infection cleared up, so did the diarrhea.

Summary

Baby pig diarrhea is frustrating and costly. Use the great tools at the diagnostic laboratories, because this is one problem that you cannot afford to let continue without intervention. Because there are so many possible causes, veterinary input and sample submission for diagnosis are essential.

Many new problems become harder to diagnose and to treat. These problems need to be approached from multiple directions, from vaccination to feedback to piglet comfort management.