Best practices for managing and controlling neonatal diarrhea

It is essential that strategies of prevention and control ensure a sanitized and temperature controlled environment to achieve an appropriate balance between the environmental pathogen load and piglet immunity.

Attila Farkas DVM

June 16, 2017

4 Min Read
Best practices for managing and controlling neonatal diarrhea
National Pork Board

Neonatal piglet diarrhea is a very common and relevant problem in modern pig production. It is associated with increased pre-weaning mortality, poor growth rates and variation in weight at weaning. The newborn pig has an immature mucosal immune system at birth allowing pathogens to colonize the gastrointestinal tract immediately after birth.


Most common infectious causes of neonatal diarrhea

  • Rotaviruses cause diarrhea in nursing and post-weaned pigs, affecting primarily the small intestine

  • Transmissible Gastroenteritis virus is a highly contagious disease in pigs of all ages, with mortality near 100% in pigs less than two weeks old

  • Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus affects pigs of all ages, has very high mortality in suckling pigs. Once pigs are weaned, the mortality rate decreases rapidly.

  • Porcine deltacoronavirus similar to porcine epidemic diarrhea but with a lower severity. Mortality can be high especially for piglets younger than 14 days.

  • Colibacillosis can occur in pigs from 2 hours old up to the post-weaning period, but is most common in pigs 1 to 4 days old. Mortality is greatest in pigs less than 4 days old, with death occurring 12-24 hours after the onset of diarrhea. In pigs older than seven days, morbidity and mortality are much lower

  • Clostridial enteritis seen in pigs 1-21 days of age, usually in pigs less than ten days old. It is often a persistent, recurring problem once established in a herd. Dose and virulence of the pathogen, in addition to the quantity and quality of maternal antibodies determines the severity of the disease.

  • Coccidiosis occurs at 7-10 days of age as a chronic herd problem but does not consistently affect all litters or all pigs in a litter. Gross clinical signs are consistent with yellow watery scours progressing to yellow pasty scours over a 3-5 day period.



Clinical signs of neonatal diarrhea in piglets are associated with 

  • Huddling

  • Dehydration

  • Lethargy

  • Wet backsides

  • Reddened perineal area

  • Watery to pasty stools

Control and prevention

  • Active immunization by vaccination of the sows before farrowing, using different types of vaccines is a good way to increase concentration of antibodies in the sows colostrum. Producers have the option to choose between commercially available vaccines or custom tailored subunit vaccines prepared with farm specific isolates. These vaccines can aid in the prevention of rotaviral diarrhea, enterotoxemia and collibacilosis in the nursing piglets.

  • Depending on the health status of the herd some producers elect to perform natural planned exposure of the sows before farrowing in order to develop or booster colostral/ lactogenic immunity. Exposure material can be generated by using scour material from piglets, gilt manure or intestinal tract of piglets with clinical signs of scour.

  • Elevated environment sanitation decreases the pathogen load present in the environment, which can overwhelm the number of antibodies acquired passively from the colostrum. Sanitation can be achieved by ensuring that farrowing rooms are only used on an all-in, all-out basis. This includes pressure washing farrowing rooms using soap/degreaser to remove biofilms, inspection prior to disinfection, using appropriate disinfectant for disinfection, and complete drying of rooms in between each batch. (Picture 5)


 Picture 5. Clean, disinfected farrowing

  • Proper farrowing room set up with functional heat lamps prevent chilling of piglets or large temperature fluctuations inside the barn. Appropriately adjust the heat lamp by maintaining an initial temperature between 95⁰F - 100⁰F, than adjusting as needed to provide warmth and comfort. (Picture 4)


 Picture 4- Heat lamp management

  • Colostrum is important for gut development, growth, and for providing pathogen specific immunoglobulin supply (IgG, IgM, and IgA). High levels of antibodies are absorbed within the first 12 hours of birth. After the colostral antibodies have been absorbed into the bloodstream, immunity is maintained by the antibody IgA, which is present in the milk. IgA is later absorbed into the mucous lining of the intestines. It is essential that the newborn piglets drink sufficient colostrum soon after birth to prevent potentially pathogenic organisms from multiplying against the intestinal wall and cause diarrhea. Furthermore, it is important that the piglets continue to drink milk regularly after the colostrum has gone, so that their intestines continue to be lined by protective antibodies.

  • Scour is more common in large litters.

Adopt procedures to prevent the spread of the scour:

  • Avoid stepping inside the crates.

  • Disinfect boots between rooms.

  • Use a disposable plastic apron when treating or processing piglets to prevent heavy contamination of clothing.

  • Change gloves after handling a scoured litter.

  • Disinfect shovels and scrapers between pens.

It is essential that strategies of prevention and control ensure a sanitized and temperature controlled environment to achieve an appropriate balance between the environmental pathogen load and immunity gained from the sow. In conclusion, neonatal piglet diarrhea should be viewed as the outcome of several factors that need to be addressed in order to find the proper means of intervention. (Figure 1)


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