Diarrhea is present in many finishing barns. Many producers would point a finger at ileitis as the cause of finishing diarrhea. Vaccine and treatment failure for ileitis are often incriminated when diarrhea is observed in the finishing phase of production.

In fact, there are a number of other causes of finishing diarrhea.

Case Study No. 1

We were called to look at a case of recurrent diarrhea in newly arrived feeder pigs. This pork producer receives groups of 750 feeder pigs weighing 50-55 lb., which are placed in fully slotted, double-curtain-sided finishers. At 5-7 days post-arrival, up to 50% would have diarrhea. Many became poor-doers; up to 5% would die.

A laboratory diagnostic workup yielded a hemolytic E. coli., a disease commonly seen in nurseries that is becoming a more common cause of finishing diarrhea.

Since these 50-lb. pigs broke so frequently with diarrhea, we were concerned that the pigs did not make the transition between diets well. We tried to nutritionally match the last nursery diet and the finisher receiving diet. The last nursery diet was formulated with soybean meal, corn, canola meal and barley. The finishing receiving diet was an aggressive feeding program with corn-soybean meal rations that contained 4-5% added choice white grease.

We changed the receiving diet, adding more fiber and less choice white grease. These changes have greatly reduced the incidence and death loss due to hemolytic E. coli in finishing pigs.

We are currently making the last nursery diet more like the receiving diet to attain an even smoother transition for finishing pigs.

Case Study No. 2

Last fall, we were called to look at a group of 60-lb. finishing pigs. These single-source pigs came in as weanlings, all barrows from a maternal line gilt replacement program. This unit received 350 pigs every 8-9 weeks. Pigs spent 8-9 weeks in the nursery before being moved to an on-site finisher.

The finisher is a fully slotted, double-curtain-sided facility with two ages of pigs in two separate rooms. This unit has a history of both ileitis and hemolytic E. coli.

About two weeks after pig placement in the finisher, the owner noticed diarrhea in some pens. The incidence of diarrhea was severe and affected up to 60-80% of the pigs, yet no pigs died during this bout of diarrhea. It was assumed that these pigs had ileitis and treatment was initiated.

Following the incident, we were called out to perform a diagnostic workup. Tissue analysis pointed to Transmissible gastroenteritis (TGE). Death loss was quite low in finished pigs. The low mortality and high percentage of finishing pigs affected were tipoffs that this problem was not due to ileitis.

Since TGE is a virus that removes the villi in the gut where absorption of nutrients and fluids occur, the diarrhea will not stop until the villi grow back. This usually takes 3-5 days. We successfully treated pigs with electrolytes in the water, which is the best approach until pigs can get better on their own.

Case Study No. 3

We were called to look at a case of suspected ileitis in a 600-head finishing facility that had a known history of acute ileitis. The pig flow came from a large production system that sends 600 weaned pigs every eight weeks. These pigs stay in a nursery for eight weeks, then move to an on-site or off-site finisher.

This unit had a history of acute ileitis in finishing. Ileitis vaccine had been used with relatively good success.

So when diarrhea returned, it was assumed the ileitis vaccination program failed. Diarrhea affected 3-5% of the pigs and disease progression often ended in death. A very low percentage of pigs showed signs of cyanosis (discolored ears and extremities) and had a fever of 105° F.

On postmortem examination, enlarged livers, spleens and lymph nodes were noted. Salmonella cholerasuis was isolated.

Antibiotic treatment must start early to be effective. In general, this bacteria will be resistant to the penicillins and tetracyclines and sensitive to the ampicillins and ceftiofur.


Diarrhea in the finisher is not necessarily due to ileitis vaccine or treatment failure. These three examples of diarrhea were thought to be cases of ileitis.

We also see nutritional causes, whipworms, Brachyspira pilosicoli and a variety of other enteric problems in pigs that we service.

Making sure to involve your swine veterinarian to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan becomes an important decision when wading through the sometimes confusing clinical signs of finishing pig diarrhea.