This bacterial pathogen strikes piglets at an early age.

Clostridium bacteria are common in the environment, found in soil and water as well as the gut of mammals and birds. Piglets are exposed at a very young age by taking in the bacteria orally.

Clinical signs of infection can vary, but usually affect the pig by 1-7 days of age. Diarrhea begins soon after birth with some pigs dying suddenly. Other pigs exhibit weight loss and unthriftiness, even though they often continue to nurse.

It is not uncommon to have only three or fewer pigs affected in a litter. Often, the producer assumes the cause is a poor-milking sow.

Respiratory signs are attributed to fluid in the chest cavity and toxemia, or the presence of toxic substances in the blood.

Case Study No. 1

A 2,400-sow, breed-to-wean farm reported that piglet diarrhea had been increasing for several weeks. Affected pigs were 2-3 days old. While the number of mortalities was not significant, the appearance of the disease at weaning caused purchasers to reject those pigs.

To determine the cause of the persistent diarrhea, several pigs of various ages and stages of the condition were collected and tissues were submitted to a diagnostic lab.

On postmortem examination, the intestines of the pigs contained yellow fluid and some pigs had full stomachs. The consistent gross lesion was edema of the spiral colon. Lab tests were negative for rotavirus, Transmissible gastroenteritis (TGE) virus and Clostridium perfringens. The small intestine yielded a non-hemolytic Enteric colibacillosis. The large intestine revealed there were large numbers of Clostridium difficile with toxins A and B determined by enzyme immunoassay.

Further investigation at the farm revealed there had been several changes in management procedures. Production included several large farrowing groups. The flow did not allow pressure-washed farrowing rooms to dry before farrowing crates were restocked. The farm was also short one staff person in the farrowing area, and consequently, crate scraping was not getting done on a regular basis.

A long-acting cephalosporin drug was being administered as pigs were processed between 1 and 3 days of age. Processing boxes were used.

The farm agreed to change management procedures to try to minimize the diarrhea. Rooms were allowed to dry before sows were loaded in the crates. Crate scraping was reinstituted. Processing was delayed until pigs were 3 days of age. Processing boxes were cleaned and disinfected every day after use.

The amount of visible diarrhea has been very minimal since these practices have been implemented consistently.

Case Study No. 2

A 600-sow, farrow-to-feeder pig operation began experiencing diarrhea in pigs at 7-12 days of age. About 10% of litters (2-3 litters) were affected. Because response to treatment had been poor, and nearly half of the affected piglets had died, several pigs were submitted for diagnostics.

Laboratory results indicated the small intestine was congested and the spiral colon was edematous or swollen. All pigs had stomachs full of milk curd. Tests for rotavirus and TGE were negative and there were no histologic or tissue lesions indicative of coccidiosis. Heavy growth of Clostridium difficile was obtained from the colon.

As a result of this diagnosis, all management procedures at the farm were reviewed. It was discovered that the medication dose given at processing had been calculated incorrectly. The cephalosporin dose was two times higher than needed. It was also discovered that the BMD (bacitracin methylene disalicylate from Alpharma Animal Health) had been removed from the sow feed. That antibiotic was placed back in the lactation feed, producing almost an immediate improvement in control of the diarrhea.


At the time of processing, neonatal pigs are commonly treated with penicillin or cephalosporin for the reduction of infections. Some data suggests that antimicrobials given to very young pigs alters the developing gut flora and allows Clostridium difficile to cause enterocolitis.

Good relationships between producers and their veterinary health advisors are necessary, because open communication can reveal changes that could create an environment for diseases to occur. Close scrutiny of procedures and laboratory examination of affected animals can verify the medical problem.

These case studies show the importance of understanding how management and processing changes can have an immediate impact on the health of the pigs. In these cases, the diarrhea that occurred led to a review of all processes. Simple and cost-effective solutions were accomplished when producer and veterinarian communicated and worked together to solve the problem.