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Scours and the Impact of Clostridium on Your Swine Herd

As summer comes to an end and we welcome cooler temperatures, increased Clostridium prevalence also lurks around the corner. Clostridium commonly causes scours and can impact your herd in a variety of ways including stifling both growth and efficiency and increasing mortality.

Piglet Scouring

Post-farrowing and pre-weaning piglet scours can have large economic and production impacts in swine production. Piglets that have scours in the early post-farrowing period (1-10 days of age) have a greater probability of not surviving to weaning. When they do survive, they tend to be of lower weaning weight than those that do not experience a scour event early.1 These lower weaning weights carry through the nursery period and the lifetime of the animal, resulting in lower efficiency and growth. Ultimately, this leads to fewer pounds of production for the system overall and decreased efficiency.

Research at the Veterinary Diagnostic Labs looks at the causes of post-farrowing scours, implicating multiple organisms. Primary causes of viral infections include Rotavirus, Transmissible gastroenteritis, Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus and Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome virus. Coccidia is the major parasitic infection, whereas bacterial sources primarily include Escherichia coli and Clostridium species (perfringens types A and C, and difficile). All these organisms have been implicated either individually or as part of a combination of piglet scours. Clostridium species are present in 60 percent of the cases of post-farrowing scours.2,3 While the pathogenicity of each organism varies, Clostridium have the potential to attack the intestinal injury caused by other organisms and further aggravate the disease.

Routes of Transmission

Clostridium is prevalent in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract of sows, and piglets get exposed to Clostridium when exposed to the sows’ feces. Clostridium, however, being a spore-forming organism is also prevalent in soil and is common in many environmental conditions.3 Historically, Clostridium perfringens type C was very common when swine production was largely done outdoors. As pig production entered confinement systems, Clostridium perfringens type A became more predominant, as well as Clostridium difficile. As discussed, these are largely introduced to the piglets through the sow.3 Therefore, any attempt to limit piglet scouring associated with Clostridium should certainly start with sow intervention.  

Mitigating Risk

Production staff may implement management, vaccination or other interventions, to help mitigate risk and keep post-farrowing scours from becoming a clinical issue in the farrowing unit. Some key management protocols that should be considered include:

  • Ventilation and proper heating levels within the farrowing rooms must be maintained.
  • Pigs must be sorted and moved as closely to a farm protocol as possible to minimize stress and allow piglets the best opportunities for access to milk.
  • Proper cleaning, disinfection and drying between groups in the farrowing unit is essential.

While most viral components of scours are targeted largely through vaccination, feedback strategies and gilt acclimatization, bacterial components have historically been controlled with antimicrobials. As the industry moves toward continued reduction in antibiotic usage, it is critical to consider additional strategies.

Pathogenicity of Clostridium can be disrupted through feed interventions, such as probiotics or direct-fed microbials. Theses additives are often cost effective, easy to apply within the unit and may have a broad protection against the different Clostridium species that commonly affect the post-farrowing piglet. Further, probiotics offer a myriad of other health benefits including possible protection from other diarrheal diseases and improved overall gut health.

In Summary

Together, good management, health and nutrition practices can help break the cycle of Clostridium and scours.

The bacterial challenges from Clostridium, however, can change over time in terms of strain or species. Over time, the efficacy of interventions may decline if there is Clostridium drift in species that are impacting producers. As the industry moves to reduce reliance on antibiotics, producers must consider alternative technologies that have efficacy against a wide range of Clostridium species, have proven safety and are easy to use. The probiotic CLOSTAT®, which contains a patented strain of Bacillus subtilis PB6, has been shown to improve piglet livability and performance when applied to the sow.4 PB6 effectively targets and disrupts Clostridium and supports the overall gut health of pigs.



1 Songer, J. Glenn. 2005. Francisco A. Uzal, Clostridial enteric infections in pigs, J Vet Diagn Invest 17:528–536
2 Knudsen, David Knudsen, DVM, MS, DACLAM. 2018. Diarrhea in newborn pigs? Consider mesocolon edema syndrome, National Hog Farmer Vol. 63 No. 10.
3 Schwartz, Kent J. 2005. Clostridial Diseases in Pigs, Iowa State University Veterinary Diagnostic Lab, document 052.
4 Hanson J, Harms P, Culbertson M, et al.  Utilization of a direct-fed microbial (Bacillus subtilis, PB6) to improve performance of nursing piglets: Comparison of sow, piglet, and combination treatment regimens.  American Association of Swine Veterinarians 2009, pg 301-304.

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