Neonatal diarrhea has many causes. Transmissible gastroenteritis (TGE) occurs sporadically and coccidiosis appears seasonally, but the most commonly seen diarrhea is colibacillosis or Escherichia coli (E. coli).

The conditions caused by colibacillosis are an acute, sometimes fatal enteritis of suckling pigs. The disease spreads rapidly within a litter and is easily spread within the farrowing area by equipment, hands and boots.

The syndrome has three clinical parts: septicemia (infection of the bloodstream), diarrhea and edema disease. The first two are most commonly seen in preweaning pigs.

E. coli organisms are present everywhere in the environment. The young pig acquires the bacteria orally from contaminated surfaces: the sows' udder, teats and rear quarters, fecal material, pen walls, etc.

Primary septicemia and diarrhea develop if the pig swallows an infective dose prior to receiving colostrum.

The syndrome can also occur if colostrum contains low antibody levels to infection or pigs have ingested a low amount of protective colostrum. After ingestion the organisms travel to the small intestine, multiply, produce toxin and trigger diarrhea. Death is due to dehydration, weight loss and inability to absorb fluids and nutrients.

Diagnosis is confirmed by culturing the small intestine and recovering the organism. Other diarrheal diseases of the newborn pig that must be differentiated are TGE, rotavirus, clostridium and coccidiosis.

Case Study No. 1

A 350-sow, farrow-to-finish, one-site farm experienced a sudden “outbreak” of E. coli in farrowing. Diarrhea was also occurring in newly weaned nursery pigs. Rectal swabs, euthanized pigs and tissues were collected. Laboratory tests verified E. coli.

In reviewing farm procedures, it was discovered that several changes had occurred. First, the power washer had not worked for several weeks so farrowing and nursery rooms had not been cleaned. Second, a new staff person was working in the farrowing area; and third, the prefarrow exposure program had been abandoned when the previous staff person quit.

Deficiencies were corrected. The power washer was repaired. Affected farrowed pigs were given injectable antibiotics. Nursery pigs were placed on water medications. There was good response to treatment. Preventive medications were used for two weeks. The farm farrows and weans weekly.

As part of the improvements, internal biosecurity procedures were reviewed and reinstituted. Staff were trained to properly wash and disinfect farrowing and nursery rooms, wash hands and boots frequently and watch the traffic patterns within the unit hallways. The hallways and feed carts (used for transport of pigs) were also cleaned to reduce tracking of contaminated material.

Also, the farrowing staff person began an intense effort to scrape fecal material out of all farrowing crates daily. This material was fed back to sows 3-6 weeks prefarrowing to provide exposure to the E. coli that had occurred in farrowing.

Within four weeks of the first clinical signs, scouring in newborn pigs stopped as did postweaning diarrhea.

Case Study No. 2

This farm is 180 sows housed in batches in outdoor groups. Farrowing, nursery and finisher buildings are all on one site but in separate facilities.

The producer indicated there was an increased level of scours in gilt litters. Some entire litters were affected. A few affected pigs were euthanized and tissues collected. The lab confirmed hemolytic E. coli.

At first, affected litters were treated with antibiotics. Treatment response was variable and the producer didn't want the hassle of treating pigs.

Further investigation revealed why gilt litters were more affected by diarrhea. Gilts were kept in a yard and confined during gestation. Gilts farrowed smaller litters and “extra” pigs were transferred to them for suckling. In these litters with crossfostered pigs, the transferred pigs would show diarrhea, while pigs that remained in their original sow litters didn't develop diarrhea.

Further review revealed manure feedback was done regularly for sows prefarrowing, but not to gilts. Part of the reason was that gilts were housed in a partially slotted floor building on self-feeders. It was decided the best solution was to vaccinate gilts. The first batch of vaccinated gilts farrowed without litters showing diarrhea and that practice continues today.


E. coli organisms are spread by rodents, contaminated feed or equipment and personnel. Reduce exposure by keeping equipment clean and washing hands and boots.

Contact your veterinarian when clinical disease occurs to get a complete diagnosis. Use your herd health advisor to evaluate your system. Periodically review farm processes to reduce chances of a “breakdown.”