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Necrotic Enteritis

Other Names: Enterotoxemia, Rot Gut

Necrotic enteritis (NE) is a serious intestinal disease of commercial broiler flocks worldwide. The disease is characterized by necrosis and inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract (GIT). The primary causative agent of NE is Clostridium perfringens. C. perfringens is a Gram-positive, anaerobic, spore-forming bacterium which is able to produce several enzymes and toxins responsible for causing disease. C. perfringens is naturally found in the intestines of healthy chickens, and other birds. However, when exposed to certain conditions, C. perfringens can multiple and produce toxins. These toxins cause necrosis of the intestines, hemorrhaging, perforation of the intestine, and eventual death from septic shock. NE is similar to Pig-bel Syndrome (enteritis necroticans) in humans, which is caused by the same bacteria.

Outbreaks of NE are sporadic and the clinical form of NE is short, with birds dying within a day of when initial clinical signs are first observed. The most common signs observed include ruffled feathers, depression, and diarrhea. Most birds have very little to no appetite. There is also a subclinical form of NE, in which C. perfringens travel to the blood stream and bile duct, colonizing and causing damage to the liver. The most common reported signs include reduced appetite and weight loss or slow weight gain.

Risk Factors

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.


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

Mucoid, orange colored frothy diarrhea
Droppings may be tinged with blood
Loss of appetite
Reluctance to move
Ruffled feathers


  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Lab tests
  • Necropsy

Reported Cases

  • Case 1: Necrotic enteritis in a Backyard chickens Necrotic enteritis occurred in a small backyard chicken flock experiencing multiple deaths. Submitted hens were pale with red distended proximal small intestines filled with hemorrhage and fibrinonecrotic material. Histologically the affected intestine was hemorrhagic and necrotic with numerous bacterial rods compatible with Clostridium spp., and coccidia stages. Ref

  • Case 2: Necrotic enteritis with coccidiosis in a Broiler chickens Necrotic enteritis associated with coccidiosis was diagnosed in 25-day-old broilers. Six live broilers with a history of increased mortality with birds "dying with their legs straight out" were submitted for laboratory examination. At necropsy, the mucosa of the jejunum and ileum had a “cloth towel” appearance with loose, small mucosal flakes. Moderate numbers of coccidia were detected by the wet mount technique. The diagnosis of necrotic enteritis was confirmed by histopathology, which revealed necrosis of the upper part of the intestinal mucosa associated with large numbers of both rod-shaped bacteria and coccidia. Ref


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.
Neomycin10 mg/kg PO q8-12h
70-220 mg/kg feed for 14-21 days
80-264 mg/L drinking water
B Speer
ProbioticsAdded to dietH Wang et al., 2017; Y Wu et al., 2018
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) essential oil1 g/kg added to dietNM Eid et al., 2018; J Carrasco et al., 2016; D Yin et al., 2017
L-glutamineAdded to diet at 10 g/kgG Xue et al., 2018
L-ArginineAdded to diet at 3 g/kgB Zhang et al., 2019



  • 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

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
  • Diets with high levels of indigestible materials, non-starch polysaccharides feeds, such as wheat, barley, rye, and oats.
  • Feeding birds leftovers which haven't been refrigerated properly (to a temperature below 40 °F (4 °C) within two hours of preparation)
  • Stress
  • 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 mycotoxins