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Necrotic Enteritis

Enterotoxemia, Rot Gut

Necrotic enteritis (NE) is a life-threatening gastrointestinal disease of chickens. The disease is caused by the bacterium, Clostridium perfringens. C. perfringens is a Gram-positive, anaerobic, spore-forming pathogenic bacterium. It is commonly found in the intestinal tract of most animal species and humans, insects, soil, marine sediment, and decaying vegetation.

NE occurs when large numbers of C. perfringens grow in the intestines, and secrete toxins. These toxins cause necrosis of the intestines, hemorrhaging, perforation of the intestine, and eventual death from septic shock. It is similar to Pig-bel Syndrome (enteritis necroticans) in humans, which is caused by the same bacteria.

The disease usually occurs in chickens living in unhygienic environmental conditions. Outbreaks are sporadic and the clinical illness of NE is short, with birds dying within a day of when initial clinical signs are first observed.

Risk Factors for NE


Some of the factors identified to increase the risk of NE in chickens include:
  • Rough handling and abuse by farm workers.
  • Mycotoxins: Chronic consumption of deoxynivalenol (DON) mycotoxins, which are a frequent contaminate of poultry feeds.
  • Poor sanitary practices
  • Protein-deficient diet
  • Overcrowding
  • Concurrent infection with the Ascaris intestinal parasite, which produces a trypsin inhibitor.
  • Diet with high levels of non-starch polysaccharides, fishmeal, or trypsin inhibitors (sweet potatoes).
  • Sporadic feasts of meat (after long periods of a protein-deficient diet)
Any factor that causes increased stress can suppress the chicken's immune system and offset the balance of flora in their gastrointestinal system, resulting in high levels of C. perfringens to develop.

Diagnosis


NE can be diagnosed using a simple fecal test, in which the feces is sent off to diagnostic laboratory where it is tested specifically for the presence of the toxins produced by the C. perfringens bacterium. These include:
  • C. perfringens screen - Test consists of an anaerobe culture of the feces or intestinal loop. Results usually take 2-3 days.
  • C. perfringens toxin typing Toxin detection : - Procedure conducted using an ELISA or PCR taken from feces or intestinal loop. Results usually take 2-8 days.

Clinical Signs

Diarrhea
Loss of appetite
Dark, often blood-stained feces
Foul odor
Depression
Reluctance to move
Sudden death
Huddling

Diagnosis

  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Physical exam
  • ELISA
  • Clostridium perfringens Enterotoxin bacteriology
  • Fecal cytology
  • Tissue biopsy

Treatment

NameSummary
AntibioticsBacitracin, lincomycin, neomycin, penicillin, tetracycline, trimethoprim-sulfadiazine, tylosin
Supportive careIsolate the bird from the flock and place in a safe, comfortable, warm location (your own chicken "intensive care unit") with easy access to water and food. Limit stress. Call your veterinarian.
ProbioticsBacillus and LactobacillusZhou M et al., 2016

Prevention

  • Biosecurity
  • Prevent chickens' exposure to temperature extremes that may bring on cold or heat stress in birds: A significant increase in the pH and C. perfringens counts were observed in chickens challenged by cold stress.
  • Properly store all poultry feeds and inspect on a daily basis.
  • Don't stock high densities of birds together in the same environment
  • Supplement diet with yeast extract, prebiotics (MOS), probiotics, organic minerals and enzymes

Scientific References

Good Overviews

Age Range

Young chickens which have immature immune systems are more at risk of NE.

Risk Factors

  • Coccidiosis: Infestation of the chicken's GI tract with Eimeria spp
  • Diets rich in fish proteins or wheat, high levels of non-starch polysaccharides
  • Feeding birds leftovers which haven't been refrigerated properly (to a temperature below 40 °F (4 °C) within two hours of preparation)
  • Poor sanitation: Chickens living in poor living conditions with high concentrations of birds and soiled bedding
  • Temperature fluctuations: Chickens undergoing cold or heat stress
  • Feed contamination : Consumption of feedstuff contaminated with DON mycotoxins