Necrotic Enteritis

Necrotic enteritis is an acute disease that produces a marked destruction of the intestinal lining of the digestive tract. Common field names (rot gut, crud and cauliflower gut) accurately describe the condition. The cause of the disease is Clostridium perfringens, a spore-forming, rod-shaped bacterium. Bacterial organisms and their toxins are the primary cause but coccidiosis may be a contributing factor. Most of the damage to the intestinal lining apparently is due to toxins produced by the bacterial organisms.

Little is known about the spread of the disease but transmission is thought to occur by oral contact with the droppings from infected birds. Necrotic enteritis appears suddenly in the affected flock. Apparently healthy birds may become acutely depressed and die within hours. Mortality is usually between two and ten percent, but may be as high as thirty percent in severe outbreaks. Losses due to reduced growth and feed conversion may be more costly than flock mortality.

Lesions of the disease usually involve the lower half of the small intestine, but in some instances the entire length of the tract is involved. The intestine is dilated, contains dark offensive fluid and a diphtheritic cauliflower-like membrane that involves the mucosa. The lining of the intestine will have a coarse Turkish-towel appearance and portions of the lining may slough off and pass out with the intestinal contents. Diagnosis in based upon history, symptoms and findings of the characteristic lesions.

Bacitracin or virginiamycin are effective treatments administered in the feed. Bacitracin can also be given in the drinking water. Supportive vitamin treatment may enhance the effectiveness of the treatments. Preventive medication may be of value on premises where prior infections have been observed. Since coccidiosis may be a contributing factor, attention must be given to an effective coccidiosis control program.

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