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Diseases of weaner pigs

By Dr Annie Labuscagne, Charles Street Vets
We all have them: the small, ill weaner that is just not performing.  What is the most important weaner diseases that give rise to these non-performing weaners and what should one do with them once they are there?The first disease that jumps to mind is colibaccilosis.  It is a disease that is caused by E.coli.  What are the reasons for piglets to be more susceptible to E.coli at this stage of their life?  The answer to this is that their whole existence has just changed drastically!  They were taken away from their sow, they have to get used to a new diet and they are put into pens with strange piglets.  Another problem is that their immunity is taking a dip, making them more susceptible to diseases.  Very often the weaners over engorge which causes the pH of the intestinal system to rise.  This rise in pH makes the gut environment more hospitable for E.coli and they proliferate.  The protective properties of milk are removed and the E.coli can enter the blood system of the piglets, causing it to spread through the body.  How can E.coli outbreaks be prevented?

  • Make use of the all-in all-out system as far as possible
  • Proper cleaning between batches
  • Start feeding piglets creep while they are still in the farrowing house
  • Make use of in-feed or in-water medication
  • Make sure that your water is not the source of problems.
  • Have it tested for bacteria and if the contamination levels are high, consider chlorinating the water.

Headaches
Glässer’s disease is another cause of headaches.  The causative organism is Haemophillus parasuis.  The pig is the natural host of the organism.  Traditionally it is a disease associated with compromised piglets.  The disease can present itself in different ways ranging from acute deaths to emaciated piglets.  Glässer’s disease on an SPF farm looks different from Glässer’s disease on a conventional farm.  On SPF farms symptoms can range from coughing to nervous symptoms.  Glässer’s disease is one of the more serious diseases associated with mixing pigs from different sources.  Diagnosis is based upon herd history, clinical symptoms and post mortem signs.  One can culture the organism to get a final diagnosis, but the organism is relatively difficult to culture.
Meningitis is sometimes seen in the weaner house.  Characteristically one would see a pig that lies on its side paddling, with its head pulled back towards its back.  The most common cause is Streptococcus spp.  Treatment of choice is a short acting penicillin such as Clamoxyl and a painkiller such as Predef.
Remember to give the pig water.  Very often pigs die of dehydration and not because of the original disease.
Although mycoplasma is not seen as a problem at this tender age, weaners transmit the disease to each other.  Every pig that is infected, will infect at least one other pig.  Sometimes one will hear sneezing, sniffling and some coughing.  Most farms vaccinate against mycoplasma and the disease is monitored with abattoir surveys.  This is one of the most important erosive diseases on a piggery.
A relative new comer in the disease arena is circo virus.  Although our pigs have been positive for years, the disease syndrome PMWS only reared its head few years ago.
Typically weaners will start to loose condition and waste away.  On some farms up to 30% of the pigs can be affected.  Because it is a viral disease antibiotics kill the organism, but it can help to prevent secondary bacterial infections.  This has huge financial implications.  A strict internal and external biosecurity protocol helps to bring the disease under control.  Fortunately there are vaccines available and farms are getting good results from using it.
Variation in weights
Although not a disease, variation in weaning weights can be a predisposing factor to diseases.  This is a problem that starts in the farrowing house when smaller piglets are not getting the necessary attention.
Although it does not look like much on paper a difference of 500g or more is huge in real life.  The smaller piglet will never catch up with the bigger piglet.  It is the smaller piglet that takes much longer to adapt to its new environment and therefore it will be more susceptible to disease.  Prevention is better than cure – try to wean as uniform piglets as possible.  Identify small piglets as early as possible and feed them porridge.
On weaning day the smallest piglets must be identified and put in a separate pen where they are fed porridge for up to a week after weaning.
What does a good hospital pen look like?  First of all, it is not hidden in the back corner of the building.  Ideally it should be situated at the entrance where every one can see how the ill pigs are performing.  There should be a good water supply, bedding where possible and feed.  Very often these pigs are fed a porridge.  The porridge should be changed frequently otherwise it becomes a source of bacteria and disease!  Do not overcrowd the hospital pens, it is contradictory to recovery.
Diseased piglets should be identified earlier than later.  Use all your senses as well as some common sense to observe the pigs and environment daily.  This practice will enable you to react in time and therefore your recovery rate will improve.

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