Identification of the Sick or Compromised Pig
Identification and Prevention of the Sick or Compromised Nursery Pig
The objective of this initial fact sheet in the series, The Identification, Welfare, and Implications of Conditions Affecting Compromised Pigs for Producers and Stockpersons, is to detail short descriptions of the practical ways to evaluate individual or groups of pigs. This fact sheet will help the stockperson identify both healthy and compromised pigs.
A compromised animal, in biological terms, refers to an animal which is unable to function optimally. Observing pigs daily, by walking the pens will contribute to early identification of compromised pigs (1,2). In order to identify sick pigs, it is important to know what a normal, healthy group of pigs should look like. This fact sheet provides illustrations and a system, to be used as a tool, for assessing nursery pigs. This tool systematically assesses the body, eyes/ears/nose, skin/hair, and temperament which can easily be remembered by the acronym B.E.S.T.
B-body, E-eyes/ears/nose, S-skin/hair, T-temperament
Managing the compromised nursery pig requires not only individual attention but also an awareness of a group scenario and calls for timely decisions in respect to treatment, transportation or euthanasia (3). Initially, try to assess a group of pigs from a distance before disturbing them (Figure 1), observe the pigs so that they are unaware of your presence and maintain their behavior patterns. This may involve opening the door slightly. Listen for coughing, sneezing and sounds of restlessness.
After having made an initial assessment of the animals, enter all areas quietly with slow smooth motions. Once you have entered the building or room, scan the pens for (4, 5):
- down or lame animals,
- increased activity or inactivity at waterers (Figure 2a.),
- increased activity or inactivity at feeders (Figure 2b.), § inactivity, as seen with downer animals
- and ventilation concerns such as drafts or condensation.
You should follow a consistent pattern of observation on a daily basis setting a reference point from which you can make accurate comparisons. The B.E.S.T. system described below is a tool for conducting an assessment of an individual or group of pigs every day on the farm.
The B.E.S.T. Approach
Consistent, systematic observation of body condition and conformation should be made from nose to tail (Figure 3). Nursery pigs should “bloom”- as in they should be in good condition and sound. The spine, hips and ribs should not be visible on the pig and should be sufficiently fleshy covered. The only bones that should be somewhat apparent are the shoulder blades. The top-line should be level and not arched (6) (Figure 4). An arched back may be a sign of pain or skeletal deformity. Similarly, joint alignment in the feet and legs is important considering that conformation can affect the function and structure of the pig. The belly should appear well fed and free of unusual swellings (6). On the contrary, a gaunt pig with sunken flanks may be experiencing malnutrition, parasites or other maladies (Figure 4).
When evaluating the head or neck, they should be free from swelling or an tilting of the head. Joints and feet should be free of inflammation or wounds and appear taut and slender (Figure 4). Observe the hairline at the top of the hoof- wall for any signs of blisters or ulcerations (7).
Open sores, cracks or sole and hoof lesions are painful and can lead to infection and more complicated health problems. These injuries often contribute to a reluctance to move (8). Additionally, the animal should not show any signs of lameness. Signs of lameness may include a stiff or shortened stride, hind-end swagger, reduced weight bearing on affected limbs, unwillingness to rise or walk, or trembling (9). Pigs should breathe normally. Pigs that mouth-breathe, show signs of labored breathing, dog-sitting, sneezing, coughing (including thumping) or wheezing are potentially compromised (10). These signs may indicate respiratory disease (infectious or noninfectious) or irritation caused by poor air quality.
The rump should be free of damage or wounds and relatively clean without signs of scouring which may be associated with infectious disease, parasites or malnutrition. Pigs should have well-formed feces and be free of diarrhea (11). Also observe pigs for tail biting or open lesions at the base of the tail, generally caused by tail biting.
Eyes, ears and nose
Healthy pigs should have bright, open eyes with pink eyelids. Pigs with dull, sunken, cloudy, twitching, or irritated eyes are not normal. Excessive redness, inflammation, white or yellow (purulent) discharge, loss of hair, or lack of color around the eye may indicate a sick animal (Figure 5). Purulent discharge in the tear ducts is commonly seen in cases of respiratory disease resulting in dark stain generated from the tear duct.
Pigs’ ears are normally alert and pointed (Figure 5) except in certain breeds such as Landrace. Ears should be devoid of any swellings, parasites or injuries. Swollen ears may be due to a hematoma, fighting, or injury due to the environment such as abrasive penning. The nose should be straight without deviation left or right, cool and moist without lesions or blisters (Figure 5).
Skin and hair
A pig’s skin and hair should be smooth, clean, flat and uniform (Figure 4). Fuzzy hair coat, lumps, bumps, sores, scaly skin, bald patches, or a rough, dull uneven coat and reddened skin may have developed from parasites, infection, fighting or nutritional deficiency (12).
Typically fight lesions will show parallel lines at the head and neck or near the rump, while lesions from flank biting are generally round and located around the flank. Skin irritation and scratching may eventually lead to either raised areas of the skin or cracks, which may be susceptible to bacterial infection. Heavy scales or crust may be a sign of mange. Ulceration or open wounds on the skin of the legs may be evidence of excessive wear of joints often seen in piglets that were in competition for a functional teat on the sow. Raised skin lesions, a greasy-appearance, or bruising is also abnormal.
Pigs by nature are naturally inquisitive, even when excited, their behavior may reflect the quality of care they are receiving (13). The tail, should be alert and upright without damage indicating a positive well-being. They should be responsive to their environment -nose in the air and curious. Healthy pigs should not be dull, depressed, apathetic or inappetant. When approached, they should respond to your presence with a vocalized “woof” and then move away as you enter their flight-zone. However, due to their inquisitive nature, they should return shortly to investigate. You can expect the pigs to observe you (Figure 6), if they are not observing you or interested in you, try to determine the reason.
Other behaviors such as belly nosing, tail and ear biting may be signs that there is a lack of environmental enrichment, crowding or poor air quality (14-15). Pigs that are prostrate and paddling, shaking, or lack of balance (ataxia) may require immediate care.
Environmental temperature is critical when raising nursery pigs. A warm place should be provided, not only for welfare, but also to avoid disease. Lower temperature and drafts can lead to chilled pigs, which often pile in a corner of the pen. Using means such as sprinkler and fan speeds to mitigate excessive heat can improve growth and feed intake.
We hope that identification of healthy nursery pigs using the B.E.S.T. assessment tool will help stockpersons to make better decisions when observing either an individual or group of animals, which helps to prevent animal loss. Once compromised animals are identified, it is suggested that the stockperson follow up with their herd veterinarian or manager for specific treatment protocols.
It is important that compromised pigs are identified and treated appropriately to improve their health, welfare, reduce their suffering and increase their chances of recovery (1). While not always pleasant, or easy, responsible care of pigs requires appropriate, timely decisions to be made about treatment, culling, and euthanasia of compromised animals (1). Stockpersons should work with their herd veterinarians to create and implement specific on-farm plans and protocols. We will address the issues and decisions around euthanasia in Fact Sheet 2: B.E.S.T Welfare and Decisions of Pig Euthanasia.
1. Grauerholz, J. and Christianson, E. 2008. The how to and effects of good early pig care on the transition of wean pigs from the sow farm to the nursery. http://aasv.org/library/swineinfo/Content/AASVPCS/2008/07-029.pdf.
2. Friendship, B, Harding, J. and Henry. S. 2010. Periweaning Failure to Thrive Syndrome (PFTS) difficulties of investigating an emerging clinical problem. http://www.aasv.org/library/swineinfo/Content/LEMAN/2010/073.pdf.
3. Millman, S. 2012. How do we aid convalescence and improve pig welfare? http://aasv.org/library/swineinfo/Content/AASV/2012/423.pdf.
4. Brumm, M. 2008. Space to eat, drink and grow. http://aasv.org/library/swineinfo/Content/AASVPCS/20 08/07-003.pdf.
5. Kerr Johnson, A. 2011. Evidence-based swine welfare: Where are we and where are we going? http://www.aasv.org/library/swineinfo/Content/ AASV/2011/403.pdf.
6. Straw, B. Bates, R. and May. G. 2008. Anatomical abnormalities in a group of finishing pigs: prevalence and performance. Journal of Swine Health and Production Vol 17(1):28-31.
7. Mattsson, H.N. and Lundeheim, N. 2009. Foot and Skin Lesions in Piglets Born in Pens for Loose Housed Sows. http://www.aasv.org/library/swineinfo/ Content/IPVS/2008/posters?p11.015.pdf.
8. Schwartz, K.J. 2009. Infectious Disease/Lameness: Diagnosis http://aasv.org/library/swineinfo/Content/ISU/2006/059.pdf.
9. Schwartz, K. 2013. Classification of locomotory problems. http://aasv.org/library/swineinfo/Content/AASVPCS/2013/Seminar_8/07.pdf.
10. Nursery Pig Diseases 2012. http://aasv.org/members/only/swine_curriculum/pages/module05/module05.html.
11. Stevenson, G.W. 2004. Diarrheal diseases in the post-weaned pig: Salmonellosis and viral enteritis. American Association of Swine Veterinarians p.527-532. http://www.aasv.org/library/swineinfo/Content/AASV/2004/527.pdf.
12. Scheiber, A.R. 2001. Sample case report: endemic ringworm and Staphylococcus hyicus infections. American Association of Swine Veterinarians http://www.aasv.org/library/swineinfo/Content/AASV/2001/267.pdf.
13. Morrison, R. 2002. The use of pig behavior principles to improve efficiency of handling and sorting. Leman Conference. http://www.aasv.org/library/ swineinfo/Content/LEMAN/2002/3-05.pdf.
14. Li, Y. 2006. Measuring and monitoring welfare: irritation, housing and management. http://aasv.org/library/swineinfo/Content/LEMAN/2006/5-07_Li.pdf.
15. Straw, B.E. and Bartlett, P. 2000. Flank or belly nosing in weaned pigs. Journal of Swine Health and Production, Vol. 9 (1), p. 19-23.
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