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Pork production: Your piglets and diarrhoea

Question: I’ve been told that diarrhoea in piglets can result in heavy losses. My sows are due to have their first litters and I’d like to know in advance what to expect and how to cope.

Piglets are prone to diarrhoea because their immune and digestive systems aren’t mature enough to cope with all the challenges they face after birth. Diarrhoea results from an inability to digest food properly or from germs.

Very young piglets suckling from the sow get the perfect food, so if they get diarrhoea it’s caused by viruses, bacteria, or an intestinal parasitic disease called coccidiosis. These are often present in the sow’s droppings, so keeping the piglets’ environment clean and dry helps to reduce the likelihood of exposure.


Colibacillosis, caused by E coli, gives piglets diarrhoea before and after weaning. The sow should be vaccinated against E coli shortly before farrowing so that her first milk (colostrum) will protect the piglets’ getting the disease.

She should be vaccinated twice if it’s her first litter, at 4 and 2 weeks before her farrowing date. After that, 1 vaccination four to two weeks before farrowing is enough. Keep piglets warm to help them fight the disease.

Also read: Dr. Mary-Louise talks about vaccines for pigs and how they work

Diarrhoea due to diet change is usually milder, but can slow the piglets down. Make sure they can’t get to the sow’s food; it could give them diarrhoea if they eat it.

Avoid a sudden change at weaning from milk to solid feed by supplying small but gradually increasing quantities of creep feed (the feed they’ll get after weaning), to get their digestive system used to it. Place the feed in the piglets’ creep area where the sow cannot get to it.

Colibacillosis also causes diarrhoea after weaning; this is a stressful time for piglets and the immunity they have from their mother is much lower than just after birth. Make sure that weaner pens are cleaned and disinfected before introducing the piglets.

Also read: Dr. Mary-Louise talks about keeping piglets and sows healthy

Other ways to prevent diarrhoea are creep feeding before weaning, reducing stress at weaning, keeping the piglets warm and limiting how much feed they get for the first day or two after weaning.

If piglets get diarrhoea, make sure they eat and drink. If they don’t, give them an electrolyte solution (available from the co-op) or flat Coca-cola to prevent dehydration (losing so much fluid that they die).

Antibiotic treatment may be needed. If piglets have severe diarrhoea, get veterinary help.

  • This article was written by Dr. Mary-Louise Penrith and first appeared in Farming SA.

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