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Digestive Problems


Digestive Problems of Pigs
Pig Farming in South Africa

Pigs should receive a balanced diet, with feeding ingredients not being too fine or coarse.

There are various signs that a pig may be suffering from digestive problems: diarrhoea, vomiting, constipation, hard dry dung with mucus, bloody dung, belly pain, pigs not wanting to eat or eating excessively but not gaining weight.


Abdominal Pain

Healthy pigs, happy farmers. Check your pigs for symptoms of digestive disorders such as vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain


Abdominal pain in pigs may be caused by stomach ulcers, organ displacement, constipation and some diseases, such as African swine disease. Signs include pigs arching their back in pain, moaning, groaning and or screaming. Of the digestive problems in pigs, diarrhoea is the most serious. In this section, abdominal pain, stomach ulcers and vomiting are discussed. Read more on Diarrhoea in Pigs in a separate article. Treatment To treat abdominal pain, a farmer needs to identify the cause of the pain and then treat that.



Stomach Ulcers

Signs that a pig may be suffering from stomach ulcers include vomiting, abdominal pain and or dung that contains dark brown digested blood that looks like coffee grounds. Grower pigs are more often affected by this condition than sows.

Stomach ulcers may develop for various reasons. According to The Pig Site article, Gastric Ulcers, the diet may not contain enough protein, fibre or zinc. Alternatively, the energy level of the ration may be too high or the ration may contain too much wheat or unsaturated fats. The pigs may also be suffering from nutritional deficiencies, such as a shortage of vitamin E or selenium.

When it comes to the physical feed, the particle size of the feed ingredients may be too small or the moisture content of the cereals component of the diet may be too high. Transportation, periods of starvation, irregular feeding patterns and poor availability of water may also contribute to the problem.

Stomach ulcers can be prevented by feeding pigs a balanced diet, with the feeding ingredients not being too fine. The South African Pork Producer’s Organisation (SAPPO) in its pork production manual Pigs for Profit, advises farmers to treat pigs by adding 50% bran to the feed, giving the pigs access to green feed, such as lucerne or grass, and injecting them with a potentiated sulphonamide (Trimethoprim).




Pigs may start vomiting for various reasons, some causes being more serious than others. They, for example, may have stomach ulcers, be ill, have eaten something toxic or that has upset their stomachs or suffer from an internal obstruction or a nutrient deficiency.


Good hygiene will go a far way in helping to prevent vomiting. Care should be taken to prevent poisoning. The salt content in feed should be restricted and pigs should have access to sufficient water, to prevent salt poisoning.

The cause of the vomiting should be treated. So if not sure, consult a veterinarian or animal health technician. The American Minim Pig Association suggests farmers withhold feed for at least six hours after a pig has vomited to let the stomach rest and limit the water intake to about half a cup an hour after the last vomit. Free access to water can be restored if there has been no vomiting for six hours. Food should be slowly reintroduced back into the diet, starting with soft food for about a week before the pig is returned to a normal diet.


By Glenneis Kriel



Diarrhoea in Pigs
New food or food ingredients to be introduced gradually, to prevent stomach upsets in pigs of any age.

Diarrhoea in pigs is a serious problem that can result in their death if left untreated. Farmers should look for signs of diarrhoea, such as loose dung that is pasty to watery, before cleaning a house.


The dung may be slimy, grey, yellow, green, bloody and smell abnormal.

According to the production manual of the South African Pork Producers Organisation (SAPPO), Pigs for Profits, diarrhoea is usually seen in piglets, but may occur in pigs of any age.


It is generally caused by a change in diet, over-eating, weaning stress, diseases or internal parasites.



Change in Diet, Weaning Stress and Overeating

To prevent weaning stress and young piglets from over-eating, Pigs for Profits advises farmers to give sows a healthy balanced diet to ensure they have enough milk for each suckler. Piglets should be given small amounts of solid food from 21 days old, or at least ten days before weaning, to make them used to solid food. Feed should be restricted during the first few days of weaning to prevent the weaners from overeating. New food or food ingredients should be introduced gradually over a week or so, to prevent stomach upsets in pigs of any age.


Diseases that can Cause Diarrhoea

Pigs for Profit identifies the following diseases as common causes of diarrhoea:

Colibaccilosis is caused by an overgrowth of the bacteria Escherichia coli (E.coli) and affects piglets during the first three weeks of life and weaners. Affected piglets usually have creamy or yellow to grey, slimy watery diarrhoea that may be tinged with blood. The piglets tend to lose their appetite, become less active and may die from dehydration. The disease may also cause sudden deaths, with no apparent symptoms of disease.


Colibaccilosis develops when young piglets do not get enough colostrum (first form of milk produced by mammals immediately following delivery of the newborn) within the first three hours after they were born or when they do not get enough milk form the sow. So care should be taken to ensure they receive enough colostrum within the first hours after they were born and sows should be on a balanced diet to ensure they produce enough milk. Stress caused by weaning, a change in diet or the mixing of pigs from different litters, especially when they are different sizes, may contribute to the problem in older piglets.


This problem may be overcome by giving piglets small volumes of creep feed from 21 days onwards, to get them used to food and by restricting feed during the first few days of weaning. Sick pigs should be treated with antibiotics and be given lots of fluids and electrolytes to prevent dehydration.


Rotavirus is a viral disease that causes watery diarrhoea in primarily piglets during the first three weeks after birth. There is no cure.


Coccidiosis, caused by intestinal parasites, mostly affect piglets during their first three weeks of life. The disease results in white to yellow frothy diarrhoea and may be treated by antimicrobials.


Clostiridium is a bacterial disease that affects piglets during their first three weeks of life. Affected piglets have bloody diarrhoea and sometimes die with no apparent cause. There is no cure.


Swine dysentery is a bacterial disease that primarily affects growers. The disease may be carried by rats, so farmers should keep rodents out of their production areas. Affected pigs will lose weight and their dung will usually be soft with a darkish grey colour. The disease may be treated with antibiotics.


Illeitis, caused by Lawsonia bacteria, usually affects growers. Affected pigs have bloody diarrhoea and sometimes die for no apparent reason. This disease may be treated with antibiotics. All these diseases can be prevented through good hygiene and sound biosecurity measures. One of the first steps during any of these outbreaks would be to remove sick pigs from the healthy ones to prevent the spreading of these diseases.



Internal Parasites

Worms may cause diarrhoea if they are present in large numbers. To prevent worms, pigs should be dewormed regularly and premises should be kept clean and dry.



Constipation usually occurs in late pregnant sows, with possible signs including hard dry faeces, a humped back or pigs straining and groaning in pain while passing faeces with little or no production.


Constipation can be prevented by increasing the dietary fibre in the ration. A couple of weeks before farrowing, green feed and/or bran, could be added to the feed to prevent sows from becoming constipated.


Care should also be taken to ensure pigs always have access to enough water. The American Pig Association advises farmers to treat constipated pigs by giving them a mixture consisting of a quarter apple, prune or cranberry juice with ¾ of water. Adding pumpkins or fruit to the diet will also help.



Organ Displacement

To help avoid organ displacement, sows should be fed at least three times a day.

Organ displacement may occur at any age, but usually, affect sows after farrowing or growers when they weigh between 25 kg and 100 kg. Intestines of piglets may also become displaced or twisted if they suffer from severe diarrhoea. Affected pigs will usually have a swollen belly, often with a protruding rectum. The affected organ will swell and may rupture, resulting in severe pain, shock and rapid death.


During the post-mortem, the affected organ, usually the spleen, stomach or liver, will be enlarged and there will often be blood in the abdominal cavity. According to the NADIS Animal Health Skills, organ displacement may be caused by overeating, winter feeding of fermentable wet feed, erratic feeding, high-density diets or colitis.


Good management and control of feed intake will help to prevent organ displacement. To prevent organ displacement, the South African Pork Producers Organisation in their production manual, Pigs for Profit, suggests farmers feed their pigs three times a day to avoid excessive excitement at feeding times and to keep sows calm to avoid them jumping up quickly after farrowing. Diarrhoea should be treated and prevented as far as possible.



Rectal Prolapse

With rectal prolapse, the rectum will be protruding from the anus. The condition is usually seen in young pigs. According to Pig for Profit, it may be caused by abdominal pressure or straining, often as a result of excessive huddling and piling up by young pigs in winter. Poisons, such as mycotoxins caused by mould in the feed may also predispose pigs to the condition.



Affected pigs should be isolated and be given wet food if possible. Pigs for Profit warns that farmers should not try to remove or replace the part of the rectum that is hanging out: “It usually slough off, leaving a constricted but functional opening.” The slaughter weight of the pigs will be negatively affected.



By Glenneis Kriel


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