Post-weaning diarrhea - Maintaining gut health is the key to success

Anne Oberdorf

3 minutes | 26. October 2018
Degree of technical knowledge

Problems with post-weaning diarrhea? Support your piglets in a natural way

Dear Delacon Team,

Yesterday I read in the newspaper that more and more countries are going to ban antibiotics like Colistin for therapeutic use in livestock production. Moreover, the EU is planning to ban the use of Zink-oxide in 2022. However, every 4th of my piglet dies of post weaning diarrhea (PWD) if I do not treat them with appropriate medications. With the ban of ZnO and Colistin I have no idea how to treat post-weaning diseases. PWD reduces my revenue significantly. Maybe, the right approach to maintain my piglets healthy is by strengthening their intestine? That’s why I’m addressing you. Do you have a natural solution to support my piglets during the stressfull post-weaning period?

Kind regards, Eric

Dear Eric,
Not only your farm is affected by post weaning diarrhea.

Its assumed that in Europe 15-23% of all piglets are affected by PWD causing considerable losses in turnover of piglet producers. As you have already recognized, alternative approaches, like plant-based phytogenic additives can help to support piglets during the challenging post-weaning period.

In Europe, every 4th piglet is estimated to be affected by PWD

The weaning process: the most stressful period in piglets early life

Throughout the weaning process, piglets are exposed to high stress conditions: it is separated from its mother and put into a new environment with piglets from other litters. Moreover, the diet changes from highly digestible sow milk, to solid, less digestible feed. Thus, the feed intake and daily weight gain decreases.

The intestine and especially the gut microflora are not yet matured. Thus, bacteria from the barn environment can easily penetrate the intestinal mucous membrane. Particularly enterotoxigenic E. coli, better known as ETEC, are the triggers of PWD. Thereby, a single E. coli cannot provoke the outbreak of the disease: However, if the bacterial population in the intestine increases, the communication between the several bacteria intensifies. But what does this “communication”, called quorum sensing, look like? Some types of bacteria produce signal molecules which diffuse into adjacent bacterial cells of the same strain -if the density of signal molecules and bacteria reaches a certain threshold. In the bacterial cell, those signal molecules induce the expression of specific genes. In ETEC for example, specific pathogenic factors are produced: attachment factors and toxins. These attachment factors allow ETEC to stick to piglets’ intestinal cells. The produced enterotoxins lead to discharge of electrolytes, resulting in massive water loss into the intestinal lumen. Diarrhea outbreak in the piglet starts and the animals literally “dry out”. Mortality in untreated piglets increases rapidly.


Since the piglet’s immune system is not fully matured at this time, it needs additional support to protect itself against pathogenic bacteria, like ETEC. Especially the post-weaning period is a critical phase for the later development of the piglet. The appearance of PWD or even a reduction in feed intake after weaning, leads to decreased performance of the piglet and thus the farmer’s sales declines – not only due to rising medication costs. Thus, an effective strategy of support for the piglet during stressful conditions is indicated. In particular, the wide spectrum of physiological modes of action of plant-based phytogenic feed additives offers a unique apprach to support the piglets’ intestine and improve feed intake – convince yourself:


5 ways how phytogenics can help to support maintenance of gut health in weaned piglets

  1.  Increased daily gain due to improved palatability of the feed, thus also achieving an increased body weight at the end of the weaning period
  2. Improved nutrient digestion and nutrient uptake, due to increased activity of nutrient transporters in the intestinal lumen
  3. Reduced pathogen adhesion and expression of virulence genes by Quorum sensing inhibition, which reduces the risk of PWD
  4. Support of anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative processes by the increased expression of anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative enzymes or the direct scavenging of free oxygen radicals and thereby increased intestinal Integrity
  5. Protection of intestinal mucosa by forming a thin mucilage film, which reduces the adherence of pathogenic germs and thereby supporting a balanced intestinal microflora

What does that mean for the piglets? The animal gets the best possible natural support in this critical phase of life. Consequently, also the farmer benefits: Through an increased intestinal integrity, the piglet is perfectly prepared for post-weaning challenges, such as PWD, and thus medication costs and profit losses decrease.

References available upon request