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What are porcine gastric ulcers?
Gastric ulcers are an important problem affecting pig farms worldwide.
They consist of ulcerated tissue in the non-glandular portion of a pig’s stomach called the “pars esophagea”. They mostly occur in grower/finisher pigs, although they can also be frequently seen in sows. On the other hand, piglets and very young pigs are rarely affected.
Why are porcine gastric ulcers important?
Porcine gastric ulcers cause economic losses to the pig industry, mostly through mortality in the grower/finisher phase and sow mortality. Additionally, surviving animals show a reduction in daily weight gain and a subsequent increase in the time it takes them to reach slaughter. Furthermore, gastric ulcers represent an important pig welfare problem.
What causes gastric ulcers in pigs?
Gastric ulcers are caused by a pH imbalance in pigs’ stomach. A number of predisposing factors are known to contribute to their formation:
- Feeding of finely ground or pelleted feedstuffs: feed particle diameter should not reach under 400 µm (micrometre). Non-pelleted meal is preferable to pelleted feedstuffs.
- Makeup of feedstuffs: feedstuffs rich in corn and wheat have been found to increase the likelihood of pigs developing gastric ulcers. On the other hand, oats and barley appear to have a sparing effect.
- Sudden access to feedstuff after a period of absence: pigs are more susceptible to gastric ulcers when provided with feed after a period of fasting. Farmers should make sure feeding systems are functional and animals always have access to feed.
- Stressors: stressors such as pig mixing, crowding, fasting, pain, transportation or heat stress can contribute to the formation of gastric ulcers.
- Other illnesses in a pig herd: pigs suffering from other conditions, such as respiratory syndromes, have higher incidences of gastric ulcers.
What are some signs to look for to know I have a problem with gastric ulcers on my farm?
- Sudden death of grower/finisher pigs or sows. Carcasses of such pigs usually appear very pale.
- Skin pallor of live pigs.
- Black tarry diarrhea seen in pens.
- Veterinary post-mortem reports of gastric ulcers.
- Slaughterhouse scoring reports of gastric ulcer prevalence.
What can I do to avoid, manage, and treat the problem on my pig farm?
Farmers must pay careful attention to the facility environment and provide a correct feeding regimen to pigs. Stressful moments in the pig production cycle should be handled with particular care. Farmers should consult with their herd veterinarian to diagnose the problem on their farm and develop an appropriate feeding program.
Gastric ulcers represent an important issue of farm management. Farmers must ensure an appropriate feeding strategy, and correctly manage facilities to reduce the impact of gastric ulcers on their pigs.
Thomson & Friendship (2019) Digestive system. In Zimmerman JJ, Karriker LA Ramirez A, Schwartz KJ, Stevenson GW, Zhang J. (Eds). Diseases of Swine, 11th Edition Ames, Blackwell Publishing. pp 234 – 263.