Veterinarians are often faced with the challenge of diagnosing a problem with many secondary clinical signs overriding the primary cause. Such is the case with vitamin E deficiency.

Vitamin E has long been recognized as an essential nutrient in hog production. Marginal deficiencies may not produce such notable signs as mulberry heart disease, hepatosis dietetica (liver problems) and nutritional muscular dystrophy, but may produce secondary problems: lower farrowing rate, lactation failure, slow farrowing resulting in stillbirths, stiffness in pigs and sows, sudden death and spraddle-legged newborns.

Other potential problems may include sudden death in baby pigs, secondary gut edema in nursery pigs and lung congestion with secondary pneumonia that may prove non-responsive to antibiotics. Baby pigs may suffer from diarrhea. Performance may be poor or uneven in grow-finish phases.

Case Study No. 1

I was called to a 500-head finishing barn that had a chronic pneumonia problem. The two-story structure with solid concrete flooring was divided into two rooms, each with five pens.

Feeders and waterers were located in each pen. Straw was used for bedding. The pigs were purchased from multiple sources and grouped together. Management was excellent.

The producer reported some pneumonia problems in previous groups, but this particular group's problems were by far the worst. There was a 4% death loss. Pigs were lethargic, coughing, off feed and many had fevers. Several pigs walked very slowly and with a stiff gait.

Various antibiotics had been tried in the water and feed with little success.

Several dead pigs were necropsied. The results revealed severe pneumonia and increased fluid around the heart and lungs. The heart and other muscle groups appeared pale.

Tests confirmed a vitamin E deficiency based on very low tissue levels and the presence of Zenker's Necrosis (degeneration of muscle cells). A culture test revealed several common respiratory organisms, but all were secondary invaders.

The pigs responded well to the vitamin treatment and finished out with few problems. Subsequent groups of pigs were injected with vitamin E on arrival. They were also placed on antibiotics in the feed for the first three weeks, then placed on a growth promotant only. Death loss has dropped to 2% in this finisher.

Case Study No. 2

A 500-sow, farrow-to-feeder operation was experiencing a severe baby pig diarrhea at 1-2 days old.

Gestating sows were housed in stalls. Farrowing crates were on raised woven wire flooring. Baby pigs were on mats under heat lamps. Environment, ventilation and nutrition were all well-managed.

Sows farrowed normally in most cases, but occasionally would farrow slowly and have weak pigs. Oxytocin injections helped some, but all too often sows would not respond to treatment.

Baby pigs seemed to be obtaining adequate colostrum within the first couple of hours. Sows seemed to have adequate milk initially. However, some sows were drying up for no apparent reason, even on litters that survived the diarrhea.

The sows received a multi-valent vaccine prefarrowing containing Escherichia coli (E. coli), Clostridium perfringens types A and C and atrophic rhinitis organisms. Treatment did not have much impact on baby pig diarrhea. Preweaning death loss was approaching 15%.

Submitted for diagnostic workup were 2-day-old, untreated baby pigs suffering from diarrhea. Piglets tested negative for Transmissible gastroenteritis and rotavirus. A non-pathogenic strain of E. coli was typed.

Resubmitted pigs revealed Zenker's Necrosis in most of the muscle groups. An interesting finding was the baby pigs' tongues had suffered sufficient damage to inhibit them from nursing properly.

It was determined that the diarrhea was in direct response to the vitamin E deficiency and also produced the secondary E. coli.

Sows were given an injection of vitamin E two weeks prefarrowing. Baby pigs were injected with vitamin E at weaning.

The diarrhea problem ceased in later farrowings and the preweaning mortality rate dropped dramatically.


Vitamin E is very unstable in feedstuffs. It is easily destroyed or tied up by oxidation, mold, mycotoxins, iron, sulfates and nitrates.

Increasing levels in the feed may not prevent its destruction before being absorbed from the intestinal tract. Therefore, vitamin E injections may be required.

Improved swine nutrition, which has been dramatic in the past few years, will continue to evolve to meet the needs for high health and leaner genetics which the consumer demands.