Nutrition, commercial vaccines, good hygiene and immunity of piglets through colostral transfer are four key strategies in managing piglet neonatal and peri-weaning diarrhea, says Duncan Berkshire, DVM, a partner in the Bishopton Vet Group in the UK.
In a seminar at the London Vet Show, Berkshire said that diarrhea, or scour, in small pigs is a common clinical sign that can quickly become serious, leading to increased mortality in some cases.
In his paper, he said that the causes can vary from environmental issues to nutritional malabsorptions to infectious agents.
He said that all three need to be addressed if a case of scour hits a group of piglets before weaning or in the period just after.
“Having a good clinical approach, relevant diagnostic skills for use in the field, immediate treatment options and a follow-up preventative strategy are all important to make sure the best result is attained for both animals and client,” he said.
Berkshire explained that the age group that is affected is one of the most important pieces of information to help narrow down the differentials.
Veterinarians should also note the nature of the scour to identify where and how the infection is situated within the gastrointestinal tract.
He said if the scour watery or pasty, pale or cream or yellow will all help to narrow down the diagnosis.
The speed of onset of diarrhea symptoms within the group will also help to indicate the severity of the infection and help with the interventions that will need to be made.
He said that some severe infectious agents first show an increase in sudden death in the batch or the litter.
Veterinarians also need to take into account the management of the group, the fostering policy on the farm, current interventions such as vaccination and changes in the temperature and climate in the pig house. In addition, they should consider changes in feed and water, pig flow and hygiene measures in place.
“As the clinical picture comes together, this will give good indications for what diagnostics would be appropriate in order to thin down the differentials towards definitive diagnosis,” he said.
Diagnosis and treatment
Berkshire added that while fresh fecal samples are useful in producing a diagnosis, a post-mortem examination of a carcass is the best option.
Cultures directly from infected areas of the gastrointestinal tract will give more distinct information and allow placement of any infectious agents to be linked to the pathology found.
He said that depending on the diagnosis, there are many short-term treatment strategies to help the young animals.
The most important concern is the hydration of the piglets, as this is often the greatest cause of mortality.
He said that electrolytes are imperative in the rehydration of piglets and help other treatments have the best chance of success.
“Whether the primary insult is nutritional, viral, parasitical or bacterial, depending on the potential for secondary infections, then antimicrobial therapy may be indicated,” Berkshire said.
“Choice of an appropriate antibiotic should always be made taking into regard best practice for use and the sensitivities of any bacterial agents cultured from the pigs.”
Concerning prevention, he said that nutrition is a major player within the gut and ensuring adequate nutrition at each stage of the pig’s development will produce a better balance of the microflora within the gut.
The transfer of colostrum, or actively stimulating the immune system, can help to provide protection against many infections.
He said that there are many commercial vaccines that are now available that are advancing clinical disease prevention and reducing the need for other treatments.
However, he concluded that hygiene is highly important in ensuring that exposure to infectious agents is minimised.
“Correct washing, drying and disinfection should be part of any health review for these important younger members of a herd,” he said.