breeding; lameness

Pork production: Possible causes for lameness in your pigs

Question: What causes lameness in pigs? I’ve noticed that some of my growers limp when they walk and some are unwilling to get up. What can I do?

Lameness in pigs can have many causes. Pigs have small feet in relation to their size and weight.

If they live on hard concrete floors they may simply get sore feet after standing for a long time and want to get the weight off their feet. If this is the case, lameness will disappear after a rest.

The problem is often more serious.

Dirty pig enclosures can lead to damage to hooves or tissue surrounding the hooves. Sores become infected and a condition known as foot rot or foot abscess can develop. The foot becomes so sore that the pig doesn’t want to put weight on it.

Cleaning and disinfecting the wound with a wound spray containing antibiotics will help if the infection isn’t too deep. Ensure the floor is dry and clean, and provide straw to make the surface softer.

To prevent foot injuries, floors must be well-maintained, with no sharp edges or objects such as wires and nails that can cause injury. If pigs are housed on earth floors, the hooves may get too long and need to be trimmed.

Also read: Pork production: Getting the basics right for housing

Various things can cause joint problems (arthritis) in pigs. Sometimes you can see swelling on one or more joints, which may be warm to the touch, but often the only sign is lameness in one or more limbs.

If more than one limb is affected, joint pain may be the result of an infectious disease. Unfortunately, treatment is seldom successful because antibiotics can’t get to the joints. The joint and meat around it will be condemned at the abattoir.

Talk to a vet if you’re getting a lot of condemnations and establish which disease is involved, as some of them can be prevented by vaccination. If a single joint is affected it may be the result of a foot infection, so it would be a good idea to treat infected feet promptly before infection spreads.

Another cause of arthritis may be that pigs are getting too heavy. Growers need to grow fast and well, but they shouldn’t be excessively fat. Feed them less or make sure there’s enough protein and fibre as well as energy in their diet if this is the case.

Also read: How to deal with arthritis in your pigs

Growing pigs need a balanced diet containing calcium and phosphorus in the right proportions in order to form strong bones. Too much or too little could result in lameness affecting all limbs.

Fast-growing pigs are often the worst affected. Correcting the diet will solve the problem in its early stages, but badly affected pigs need to be culled, as they are in pain.

Also read: The right start for small piggeries – put the menu first and get the feeding right

If pigs are sitting and find it difficult or impossible to get up, the reason may be a problem in the spinal cord. The most common one is an abscess in the backbone that puts pressure on the spinal cord and results in paralysis of the back legs.

Spinal abscesses often result from infection caused by tail-biting or poor hygiene if the tail is docked. Injury to the back can also cause abscesses. They cannot be cured.

Instruments used for docking tails should be clean and wounds should be disinfected. Prevent tail-biting by not overcrowding pigs ensuring that the diet contains some salt (0.5% is recommended for weaners), and providing toys for the pigs (2-litre plastic bottles or sections of old car tyres) to occupy them.

If your pigs show signs of lameness and you can’t find and correct the cause, consult a vet or animal health technician; the problem could cost you more than the advice in terms of pigs not sold.

  • This article was written by Dr. Mary-Louise Penrith and first appeared in Farming SA.

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