Learn More About a Disease

Necrotic enteritis

Necrotic enteritis is a very serious illness caused by type C strains of Clostridium perfringens that affects the small intestine of piglets one to five days old and causes an often fatal necrohemorrhagic enteritis.

Type C Clostridium perfringens produces a powerful beta-toxin that penetrates between the absorbent cells of the intestine and causes necrosis of all structural components of the villi. Necrosis of the mucosa is accompanied by blood loss into the intestinal wall and lumen.1

Clinical Signs +

Infected piglets demonstrate sudden onset of hemorrhagic diarrhea followed by collapse and death. In certain cases, brownish liquid feces develop at three to five days. In peracute cases, the perineal region is blood stained. Less frequently, pigs develop a persistent, pasty, gray diarrhea and become progressively emaciated.1

Diagnosis +

Necropsy reveals a dark red, hemorrhagic small intestine. In less acute cases, there is emphysema in the wall of the intestine and necrosis of the intestinal mucosa. In more chronic cases, the small intestine is covered with a pale yellow or gray necrotic membrane. Necropsy is usually sufficient to establish the diagnosis.

A Gram stain shows large bacilli in mucosal smears, and histological demonstration of villous necrosis is adequate for confirmation.

A multiplex PCR test will differentiate the various types of Clostridium perfringens by identifying the genes coding for the different toxins produced—alpha, beta, epsilon and iota—which makes it possible to differentiate between types A and C.

Treatment +

Treatment of pigs with clinical signs is of little benefit.2 In an acute outbreak, prophylactic administration of type C antitoxin or an antibiotic (or both) parenterally or PO is protective if given to piglets within two hours of birth. If not, the disease tends to recur on infected premises.1 Administering bacitracine in sows' feed at the end of gestation and for the first weeks of lactation prevents necrotic enteritis in piglets.

Vaccination of gestating sows at six and three weeks before parturition with a toxoid containing beta toxin (for type C C. perfringens) confers some passive immunity transmitted in colostrum to subsequent litters, as long as the piglets consume the colostrum soon after birth.

Consult your veterinarian before administering antibiotics and vaccines to animals.

Your veterinarian is the best person to talk to for recommendations that are right for your farm. 


1 Merck Veterinary Manual, Third Edition, p. 245

2 Maladies d’élevage des porcs, Second Edition, Guy Pierre Martineau

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