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Clostridial Diseases

(359) Clostridia are large gram-positive spore-bearing bacteria that are present in the large intestine of all pigs. There are several species but one in particular, C. perfringens, types A, B or C, can under certain conditions produce a severe diarrhoea with very high mortality. Type C is by far the most important and if it gets into the small intestine and becomes established before colostrum is taken in, disease can result. Piglets are normally infected under 7 days of age and more typically within the first 24 to 72 hours of life.

Infection may also occur with C.difficile. This strain affects the large bowel causing inflammation or typhlitis.

Clinical signs

These are sudden in onset. Piglets rapidly develop a rotten smelling diarrhoea which is often blood coloured 1 to 7 days after birth. Many piglets die. The lining of the small intestine sloughs off (necrosis) and this may also be observed in the scour. The disease caused by C perfringens type A tends to be milder less dramatic and more prolonged but it can look similar to that caused by type C. Clostridial disease is common in outdoor herds.


In typically acute cases the clinical signs and post-mortem lesions are diagnostic. If the abdomen of a dead piglet is cut open the middle portion of the small intestine is often claret wine coloured and this can usually be seen without cutting into the intestinal wall. Bubbles of gas may also be seen in the wall of the intestine. In less striking cases, confirmation of the diagnosis must be carried out in a laboratory. It is necessary to submit preferably a live or very recently dead pig to the laboratory (within 3 to 4 hours) because the causal organisms multiply after death and cause rapid post-mortem changes. Toxin tests are carried out to determine the type.


  • In acute outbreaks lamb dysentery antiserum can be injected into the piglets at birth.
  • Oral antibiotics and in particular amoxycillin should be given at birth and again at day 2 or 3.
  • The sows ration can be medicated with 200g/tonne of phenoxymethyl penicillin or the feed top dressed daily with the premix, from 5 days pre-farrowing and during lactation.
Management control and prevention
  • This is carried out by vaccinating the sow herd using either sheep vaccines made from Clostridium perfringens type C toxoids or pig vaccines containing these toxoids. At the onset of an outbreak sows should be given 2 doses about two to three weeks apart, the last one at least 7 days before farrowing. The general principles of control of diarrhoea in the sucking piglet should also be considered as contributory factors.
  • Autogenous vaccines can be produced against type A, for use in sows.

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