Coccidiosis is one of the most common causes of piglet diarrhoea in swine production worldwide. Without treatment, it can severely impact the health and well-being of young piglets and devastate production.
“We have seen piglets that don’t put on weight in the acute phase, some of them even lose weight! That can result in a 25 per cent reduction in weight gain up to weaning,” says Professor Dr Anja Joachim, head of the Institute of Parasitology at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna.
What’s the challenge with coccidiosis?
Coccidiosis is a parasitic disease. Coccidia live and multiply inside the lining of the gut, destroying it and preventing the piglet from absorbing the nutrients they need. Affected piglets are often vulnerable to infections with other enteropathogens, such as Clostridium perfringens type A (CpA), and without treatment, it can result in severe diarrhoea in piglets and even death.
But it doesn’t stop there, one of the parasite’s life stages, called oocysts, are shed in the piglets’ faeces and can live in the environment, waiting to re-infect a new generation of piglets. Until a few decades ago, there were no effective control methods to tackle coccidiosis.
Toltrazuril – a solution in a single treatment
The introduction of toltrazuril reversed producers’ fortunes, offering an efficient solution in a single treatment, which could be given in the first days of a piglet’s life.
“When toltrazuril application is routinely implemented on a farm, the infection is very quickly controlled and the health status of these piglets improves significantly”, says Dr Joachim.
Early studies have also shown that effective coccidiosis control with the appropriate dose of toltrazuril can significantly reduce the need for antibiotics to treat intestinal infections, such as CpA.
Despite the availability of toltrazuril, piglet coccidiosis is still common in European herds, as farmers and vets have shifted their focus to other diseases and may overlook the impact of coccidia in young pigs. But the impact of coccidiosis on young piglets, and ultimately the farm, should not be underestimated. Dr Joachim gives her three-step process towards optimal control and treatment for coccidiosis in suckling piglets.
Three steps towards controlling coccidiosis
Make a specific diagnosis
Dr Joachim advises taking the time to diagnose coccidia properly, putting in place an effective diagnostic protocol for piglet diarrhoea. Determining the possible cause is vital so that the farm can tackle it immediately.
“Diarrhoea can develop from a variety of causes,” she says. “The diagnostic panel must include coccidia. People often focus only on bacteria, but coccidia are very common.”
Dr Joachim recommends taking two faecal samples: the first during days eight to 12 of life, and the second a week later and pooling the samples. This increases the likelihood of finding the oocysts, because they are not shed consistently by infected pigs.
Treat piglets in the first week of life
“Classically, coccidiosis occurs at around 10 days of age, so infection occurs about five days earlier,” says Dr Joachim.
That’s why it’s important to act in a timely manner. Dr Joachim recommends treating piglets around the third day of life ideally.
Treating piglets at this age not only stops the infection; it helps to safeguard the piglet’s health and performance, but also the environment, by preventing diarrhoea and in turn, oocyst shedding.
Dr Joachim explains: “When oocysts are shed by animals that are infected and untreated, it leads to recontamination of the environment. And that perpetuates the problem because then the next generation [of piglets] can become infected.”
Optimal hygiene standards
Ensuring high standards of environmental and personal hygiene are essential too.
Producers must thoroughly clean the farrowing pens before placing animals in them. Dr Joachim highlights that farmers should use disinfectants that are specifically effective against coccidia, as many are not aware that although their product fights bacteria, it may not be effective against coccidia.
She adds: “Producers should dry the surfaces before disinfection so that it does not dilute the products being used. And use the disinfectant at the concentration and time recommended for coccidia control.”
Dr Joachim recognises that it is a time consuming process but she says when the oocysts are inactivated, it will result in a better recovery of the infected herd.
Studies show losses from a coccidiosis outbreak are estimated to be far higher than the cost of treatment. Coccidiosis is certainly one condition that swine producers can’t afford to take lightly.
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Dr Anja Joachim is head of the Institute of Parasitology at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, Austria. To date, she has published 184 peer-reviewed papers and three book chapters. Dr Joachim will be speaking about her research at the Bayer European Swine Symposium 2019, on Tuesday September 17.