Clostridium Perfringens in
Domestic Farm Animals
D. Piontkowski, DVM
Senior Staff Veterinarian
Clostridium perfringens is a spore forming, anaerobic
bacteria widely distributed in the soil and the digestive
tract of many domestic animals. Six Types (A, B, C, D, E and
F) have been identified on the basis of the toxins produced,
with Types B, C and D being the most commonly associated with
disease in domestic animals. Vaccines and antitoxins that
produce protection to Types C (Alpha and Beta toxins) and D
(Alpha and Epsilon toxins) will also protect against Type B
(Alpha, Beta and Epsilon toxins).
Type B is a highly fatal intoxication of
young lambs and is commonly referred to as lamb dysentery.
Type B has also been associated with disease in young calves.
Type C is associated with hemorrhagic and necrotic enteritis
in cattle, sheep, goats and swine. Type D is associated
primarily with sheep, less frequently with cattle and goats,
and is commonly referred to as "Pulpy kidney
disease" or "Overeating disease".
Clostridium perfringens normally
inhabits the digestive tract in small numbers without causing
disease. If any toxin is produced, it is in small quantities
and passes through the animal without causing problems. If an
animal is exposed to a sudden increase in carbohydrates, such
as a heavy feeding of milk, lush pastures or supplementary
concentrates, resident bacteria may multiply rapidly and
produce large amounts of toxin. These toxins may damage the
intestines, facilitating the absorption of toxins to the
bloodstream. The end result of this intoxication is usually
rapid death. The collective term for this disease is
Clinical signs are usually absent with
animals that were healthy several hours prior and then
suddenly found dead. Close observation of animals prior to
death may reveal animals that are listless, have stopped
nursing or demonstrating signs of colic. Central nervous
system signs such as excitement, incoordination, circling,
headpressing and convulsions may be noted prior to coma and
death. Body temperature is usually normal or subnormal unless
associated with convulsions, in which case the body
temperature may be one to two degrees above normal. Diarrhea
may be noted, depending on the amount of toxin produced and
the length of illness. Frequently, animals near death or that
have died recently, are found on their side with the head and
neck bent backwards.
Post mortem examination may reveal
internal lesions. Lesions which may be noted include:
inflammation of the intestinal wall, diarrhea with or without
blood in the intestine, small areas of hemorrhage on the
surface of the intestines and heart, fluid around the heart or
rapid degeneration of the kidneys (hence the name "Pulpy
kidney disease"). Diagnosis is based on clinical signs,
if noted, post mortem lesions and demonstration of specific
toxin in intestinal contents.
CONTROL AND PREVENTION
Due to the acuteness of intoxication and death, treatment is
usually not an option and prevention of enterotoxemia involves
both management and vaccination of susceptible animals.
Management practices such as gradual feed changes and feeding
hay early in the day prior to turning out on lush pastures
will decrease the chances of carbohydrate overload.
Immunization with a product containing Clostridium
perfringens Types C and D should be an integral part of a
vaccination program. Naive animals should be vaccinated twice,
with the second dosage administered three to four weeks after
the first. Animals entering a feedlot or experiencing diet
changes should receive the second vaccination at least two
weeks prior to these anticipated events. Once an animal has
been properly vaccinated, an annual booster vaccination is
Enterotoxemia may occur in newborn and
young animals, in which vaccination prior to exposure is
impossible. Prevention of enterotoxemia in newborns should
involve a vaccination program of the dam. Dams that have not
been vaccinated previously should receive a product containing
Cl. perfringens Types C and D toxoid 60 and 30 days
prior to giving birth. Previously vaccinated dams should be
boostered about 30 days prior to giving birth. Also, transfer
of colostrum from the dam to the newborn should be verified.
In addition to vaccination, antitoxin that
contains antibodies to Cl. perfringens Types C
and D can also be used in a prevention program. Animals which
are at risk, and adequate time is not available for a
vaccination program to be instituted (i.e. newborns), can
benefit short term from the administration of C and D
antitoxin. C and D antitoxin will provide an animal with 10
days to 3 weeks of protection and can also be used in a
treatment program, if disease is diagnosed early.
There are other diseases that may cause
sudden death, and for specific management recommendations to
control this complex disease, it is recommended that producers
consult with a veterinarian before instituting a prevention or
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