Clostridium perfringens is a well-recognized cause of enteritis of suckling pigs.
The bacteria are common in the environment and in young piglets, producing poisonous toxins that damage intestinal tissues.
The disease expresses itself in acute and chronic forms. The acute form is seen in very young pigs (under 4 days of age). Pigs may be found dead with no outward clinical signs. Affected pigs die very rapidly and may appear to be crushed pigs.
The chronic form of the disease is more obscure, commonly affecting pigs at 5-12 days of age. The pig sometimes shows diarrhea, develops a rough hair coat and becomes progressively gaunt and unthrifty. Affected pigs often appear bright, alert and active but deteriorate over several days.
Frequently, only 1-2 pigs/litter are affected with the chronic form, and the producer will assume the cause is due to starvation or lactation failure.
Over time, there has been a dramatic increase in the observed frequency of Clostridium perfringens Type A and Clostridium difficile.
Case Study No. 1
In August, a producer was bemoaning the fact that his last two farrowings had done so poorly. He mentioned keeping old sows too long. Most were in 5th and 6th parity, and were farrowing a lot of pigs, but too many appeared to be starving out.
Upon closer observation, the picture really didn't fit starvation. The sows were in raised crates, eating well, and had drippers for cooling.
On examination, I found that the sows in the farrowing crates were covered with dried mud. Due to the hot weather, the producer had created a “wallow” in a gestation lot for the late pregnant sows. He had not gotten the routine vaccines into the sows before they farrowed.
Several pigs were sacrificed, and lesions of chronic clostridium were observed. By luck or chance, the pigs probably did get some colostral protection due to the age of the sows, but also were getting massive exposure to organisms from the dirty sows.
Sows were washed before farrowing, medication was added to the lactation feed and young litters were treated. The diagnostic laboratory confirmed Clostridium infection.
Improved sanitation and timely vaccination has minimized this disease.
Case Study No. 2
A 3,000-sow farm averaged 10-12% preweaning mortality. During the summer, they also had seen more diarrhea in 3- to 10- day-old pigs, but assumed it was “summer coccidiosis.”
Closer examination of weekly records showed overall mortality was up by 3-5%. For over a week, virtually all pigs that died were autopsied.
Gross lesions of diarrhea and necrotic enteritis were observed at a much higher rate than expected. Lab results indicated a pure Clostridium Type A.
The farm owners and staff opted to have an autogenous vaccine made. (Only in the last couple of months has a commercial Clostridium Type A vaccine been released for use in sows.)
Sanitation was stressed. Cross-fostering was minimized and no pigs with diarrhea were moved or mixed.
Processing boxes are no longer being used, as it appeared that these devices might have helped spread or propagate the organism within farrowing. Farrowing crate scraping was improved and staff was retrained to handle pigs from outside the crates to minimize spreading the organism.
Pigs with diarrhea were treated at the end of the day, and staff handling these pigs were directed to either shower or get clean clothing before doing more pig-related tasks. Hand washing was increased between rooms. Pig treatment was instituted immediately and medication was added to sow lactation feed.
The autogenous vaccine was given to late pregnant sows, and newborn pig treatment was discontinued.
Diarrhea in newborn and young pigs virtually disappeared and preweaning mortality declined to previous levels. The owners continue to use medication in lactation feed and vaccinate sows prefarrowing.
These cases were good lessons for both the producers and the attending veterinarian. First, don't assume anything. It would have been easy to accept that hot weather or old sows were causing problems. Closer examination, postmortems and laboratory testing revealed chronic disease. The problems were not necessarily easy to treat, but there were choices.
These two cases show the importance of having a good relationship between the producer and the attending veterinarian.
The initial herd problem became a focal point to review sanitation, timing of procedures and management, which lead to relatively simple and cost-effective solutions when producers and veterinarians communicate and work together.