Natural Pig Production                                                                       February 2008

Ileitis in pigs

A common ailment in swine of various ages, but especially of recently-weaned pigs, is known as ileitis. Ileitis is a generic term for a family of enteric diseases grouped under Intestinal Adenomatosis Complex or Porcine Proliferative Enteropathies (Leman et al., 1986). There are at least two common factors to most of the diseases in this group: presence of Camphylobacter sp. and inflammation of small and/or large intestine. Diarrhea is also often present, but not always. Syumptoms range from poor growth performance to death.  Experimental animal infection of these diseases is not always effective. Why? Probably because they lack the primary initiator:stress.

How can stress be a culprit if the disease only becomes evident two or three weeks after weaning?

When an animal is stressed, as a piglet would be if it were removed from the sow at a young age, its body automatically shifts into the 'flight or fight' syndrome. This involves a rapid-fire secretion of hormones that divert energy from the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) to the muscles. Beneficial microflora that populate the GIT and are an extension of the immune system starve and die. These microbes are often either attached or non-motile and rely on nutrients to come to them. When the energy is diverted away from the GIT, nutrient flow either slows or stops. The duration of the stress determines the extent of the damage. A newly-weaned pig is stressed for several days.

Consider this: a young pig is taken away from its mother and siblings, and mixed with often unfamiliar pigs in a usually unfamiliar pen. Add to that a usually unfamiliar diet. Even if creep feed was provided while still nursing, the diet was dominated by milk. This means that the GIT microflora that predominate at the time of weaning depend on milk.

After weaning, the milk-dependent microbes starve and die. This leaves gaps in the protective barrier normally presented by the beneficial microorganisms. This stress is unavoidable in all mammals, but few must experience it at such a young age and so dramatically. Bigger gaps appear in the protective barrier, gaps that opportunistic pathogens wait for and exploit as soon as they appear.

The bacteria often blamed for ileitis are not particularly infectious. However, when faced with such a ripe environment, even they can proliferate.

Many pathogens secrete toxins, which irritate the intestinal lining. They can also damage tissue responsible for nutrient absorption. If semi-digested nutrients are not absorbed, they continue down to the large intestine, where they feed more pathogens. It takes a minimum of 40 minutes for one bacteria to become two, and often longer. Considering that there are approximately 10,000,000,000 bacteria in the GIT, it would take a couple weeks just to grow enough pathogens to make the disease obvious to the producer. This is why it is so easy to disassociate stress from disease, the disease may appear weeks or even months after the causative event.


Assuming that weaning is a major stress and that newly-weaned pigs are vulnerable to infection, the best defense is prevention. Probiotics, especially in concentrated forms (paste or drench) should be given at the time of removal from the mother. The stress itself can not be avoided, but the effects can either be prevented or ameliorated.

Probiotic microorganisms temporarily fill the gaps left in the protective barrier by the demise of the stress-killed or milk-starved beneficial microorganisms. They are good competitors that carry with them an arsenal of chemical and physical weapons. Probiotic microorganisms prevent opportunistic pathogens like Camphylobacter sp. from proliferating and secreting toxins. They also allow the normal residents of the GIT to regroup, reorganize and adapt to the new diet.

The new diet should also contain a lower level of probiotic microorganisms to be consumed on a daily basis. These microbes will provide continuous coverage for less traumatic stresses that are a normal part of a pig's life - handling and weather. The initial dose of the concentrated probiotic will only protect a pig for at most a few weeks.


Probiotics can also help if a pig succumbs to ileitis, despite preventive treatment. When the disease has progressed to the point where the pig is listless, anoerexic, and/or has diarrhea, assume the pathogens are starting to dominate the GIT. In this case, the daily probiotic formula is not enough. Oral dosing is required for affected animals that are not eating.

For animals suspected with ileitis, immediate treatment with a concentrated probiotic such as MSE paste is recommend. If the animal is only just starting to appear sick, a daily dose of 5 cc should be sufficient, until it is back on feed and any diarrhea has ceased. MSE Paste is recommended over MSE Drench because the paste contains pectin.

Pectin is a soluble fiber that quickly absorbs water after consumption. The water is trapped in a matrix that can only be broken down by bacteria in the colon. However, since pectin does not have any residual effect, it must be fed daily to continue to diarrhea control.

Used together, as in MSE Paste, probiotics and pectin provide a more permanent solution.

Pectin is a quick fix. It helps stop the diarrhea and loose stools which can ultimately kill a pig. Probiotic microorganisms allow the indigenous microflora to repopulate and regain control of the GIT. It can take at least two weeks to allow the beneficial microbes to proliferate. During those two weeks, the pig is still vulnerable. I

Pigs that are down may be given higher doses. Not only does MSE Paste supply more probiotic microbes, it also supplies crucial vitamins that become depleted when an animal stops eating. Many B-vitamins are integral in energy production.

Recovering pigs that are eating can be given MSE Drench mixed onto the feed.

Literature cited

Leman, A. D., B. Straw, R. D. Glock, W. L. Mengeling, R. H. C. Penny. E. Scholl,. 1986. Diseases of swine. Iowa State Univ. Press, Ames.



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