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Diarrhea, also commonly known as “scours”, is a widespread and important problem affecting suckling and weaning piglets in farms worldwide.
It causes dehydration and electrolyte imbalance and frequently leads to piglet death.
Why is piglet diarrhea important?
Diarrhea causes financial losses to pig farmers, mostly through higher levels of piglet mortality and increased veterinary costs. It is also an important welfare issue for pigs.
Furthermore, poorly controlled diarrhea in a farrowing room or weaning barn can contribute to more concentrated use of antimicrobial drugs on pig farms. This can play a role in the development of antimicrobial resistant pathogens.
What causes diarrhea in piglets?
Diarrhea of piglets can be caused by several different pathogens, including bacteria, viruses and parasites. The bacteria Escherichia coli is likely the most important among such agents.
Farm management also has an important role in the development of diarrhea in piglets. Poor hygiene in farrowing and weaning facilities and mixing of pigs belonging to different age groups are important risk factors.
How to know if I have a scours problem on my farm
Some signs to look for through careful observation of the animals and frequent inspections on the facility:
- Staining of the area around the tail and rectum,
- Scour stains on pen walls and flooring,
- Lethargic piglets or weaner pigs,
- Poor body condition, dehydration, wasting and rough hair coat of pigs,
- Crowding of piglets around heat lamps,
- Piglet/weaner mortality (even without previous symptoms) .
Management strategies to help keep piglet diarrhea under control on your farm
Colostrum (the first milk produced by sows in the hours following farrowing) is rich in protective antibodies for the newborn. It is essential that all piglets have access to a sufficient milk supply in the early hours after birth. This can be an issue in very large litters, and care should be taken to observe that all piglets have access to teats and are able to suckle.
Farrowing pen hygiene
Many of the agents which cause diarrhea can survive in fecal remains in pens. Therefore, hygiene of facilities is essential for reducing the prevalence of scours. Care should be taken to make sure all pens are clean, and waste and excess feed are regularly removed. Farrowing and weaning pens must have appropriate flooring to permit proper waste drainage.
Pigs of different age groups and living in different environments can transmit the agents causing diarrhea to other pigs. Therefore, same age pigs should be moved together in batches from the farrowing room to weaning and growing pens. All facilities should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected between batches.
Heating and airflow of barns
Cold temperatures and drafts can predispose piglets to diarrhea. Farrowing pens and weaning barns should have a regulated temperature. Heat lamps should always be available to piglets.
Stress of piglets can lower their immune responses, thus making them more susceptible to diarrhea. Particular care for the wellness of piglets should be taken during stressful moments, such as weaning, to avoid outbreaks of diarrhea.
Piglet diarrhea is frequently treated with veterinary drugs, including antimicrobials. Farmers should consult with a qualified veterinarian regarding an appropriate treatment plan. Veterinarians will likely collect samples for further testing to assess an appropriate therapeutical strategy.
Piglet diarrhea is an important health problem affecting farms. Appropriate management of farrowing, nursery and weaning barns can significantly help to mitigate the problem.
Thomson & Friendship (2019) Digestive system. In Zimmerman JJ, Karriker LA Ramirez A, Schwartz KJ, Stevenson GW, Zhang J. (Eds). Diseases of Swine, 11th Edition Ames, Blackwell Publishing. pp 234 – 263