Neonatal diarrhea doesn't get much fanfare. But it still poses everyday challenges for practicing veterinarians and their clientele.

Case Study No. 1

A 1,200-sow, farrow-to-wean unit has trouble with yellow, watery diarrhea in piglets from 12 to 72 hours of age. At times, the pigs appear caramel-coated and will pile in corners or on top of the sow.

Diarrhea doesn't normally kill these baby pigs, but performance of those litters is poor. Often, reduced suckling leads to mastitis in the sow.

The diarrhea has been diagnosed as Clostridium perfringens Type A. The problem doesn't appear seasonal in nature, but does seem cyclical. The unit will go several months with no cases, followed by a two- to four-week period of severe outbreaks.

Multiple treatment therapies have been attempted, including feeding antibiotics to sows prior to and during lactation. Several injectable and/or oral medications have been given to piglets at birth to help prevent and control outbreaks.

Ultimately, our best control strategy on this farm is a single antigen, autogenous vaccine. Sows and gilts receive two doses of the Clostridium Type A vaccine prefarrowing.

While we haven't totally eliminated Clostridium Type A challenges, we have reduced the number of occurrences and the severity and duration of those episodes.

Case Study No. 2

A producer brought in 14-day-old pigs and reported signs of scours and sudden death among litters throughout the farrowing house. On necropsy, intestinal lesions were deep red with a pink, mucoid lining. Hemolytic E. coli was cultured from the samples, and further testing revealed a toxigenic type K88 E. coli. A commercial vaccine for K88 E. coli was being used on sows and gilts.

The producer had another large group of gilts and sows due to farrow within three weeks. We used the isolated E. coli strain to make a milk bacterin that was fed to the sows for three days in a row. This program improved scour control in the farrowing house and has continued to do so for the last four months.

Case Study No. 3

While conducting a semi-annual herd visit to a 150-sow client, I asked to review his vaccination schedule. Amazingly, this client has no vaccination schedule. Sows are managed in a four-group, five-week system. They are housed in dirt lots during gestation and farrowed in huts with solid concrete flooring both inside and out. The farm flows as a single-site operation.

This producer consistently weans 8.5-9 pigs/litter. Sows milk well and piglets seldom scour.

I always leave wondering how, with solid concrete flooring, this unit consistently performs so well without signs of neonatal diarrhea. The likely answer is it's a small population.

The herd is serologically negative for porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) and swine influenza virus. All replacement gilts are retained from the finishing herd. Very few boars enter the herd, and when they do, they come into the unit in small numbers as the producer collects his own boars and artificially inseminates the sows.

Sows are fed on concrete slabs, have excellent natural exposure to “bugs” on the farm. I believe this producer is fortunate to have an extremely stable sow herd to common pathogens like neonatal diarrhea, and his sows pass very good immunity on to the piglets.

Case Study No. 4

A 1,200-sow, farrow-to-wean unit purchased some bred females of like genetics from a producer going out of business. When these newly bred females began to farrow, a yellow, pasty diarrhea was noted in pigs at 7-10 days of age. Diagnostics revealed rotavirus as the culprit.

Within another two weeks, rotavirus was being seen in both purchased animals and the existing sow herd.

An aggressive feedback program was started, utilizing intestines and feces from the scouring piglets. This feedback program began with sows two to four weeks prefarrowing through the watering troughs. A modified-live rotavirus vaccine was also given to sows and gilts at five and two weeks before farrowing.

Within a month, clinical signs were eliminated. The unit continued to vaccinate sows and gilts for six months with the rotavirus vaccine. The unit then stopped using vaccine and has been free of clinical signs of the disease for more than two years.


Neonatal diarrhea pathogens continue to evolve and elude us, even with our most sophisticated management practices today. When preventative or treatment measures are not yielding expected results, it's still extremely important to get a proper diagnosis and set up new strategies to combat these intestinal terrorists.