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Lameness in Pigs
Leg and Foot Problems Causing Lameness in Pigs: Pigs can become lame from either trauma/injury or from infection. Some of the more common causes of leg and foot problems are listed below:

Lameness Caused by Trauma:

OCD-Osteochondrosis: OCD is the result of years of selected breeding of pigs for rapid growth and larger muscle mass, causing too much weight to be put on the growth plates of the legs while they are immature, in combination with the stress of intensive confinement (standing on surfaces, such as concrete, that have no give). The growth plate can cause the leg joints to calcify and can cause shortening and bending of the bones. More severe cases can result in a fracture of the growth plates of the vertebrae, causing spinal cord pressure and nerve damage. OCD causes the legs to be weak and possibly deformed. The weakening of the bones makes the pig more susceptible to injury later on. Damage to the growth plates of the legs and spine may only become evident when there is a severe trauma, caused by mounting or falling on slick surfaces, causing further injury to the already damaged areas.

Signs of OCD include stiff front legs when walking, very arched back, walking up higher on hooves, and very straight back legs. There is no cure for OCD, and most factory-raised pigs are prone to these problems as they age. Not having the pig on hard surfaces, keeping the pig off of slick surfaces and using thick bedding at all times helps to prevent more severe damage or permanent injury. If pigs are walking with a stiff gait or have trouble rising, the use of glucosomine supplements and pain medications can help alleviate some of their discomfort.

Bone Fractures: Because of conditions that weaken the bones, such as OCD listed above, or vitamin and mineral deficiencies during the growth period, fractures are not uncommon in domestic pigs. With a leg fracture, the signs are usually sudden and the pig is unable to rise without difficulty. They will also be reluctant to put any weight at all on the limb and will have difficulty walking, since they are only using three legs. The best method to examine the leg is when the pig is lying down, and in many cases the break can be felt. A veterinarian should be consulted immediately if you feel that there is a broken bone. Pigs with weakened bones can also be susceptible to spinal cord fractures, which are usually not correctable. Signs of a spinal vertebra fracture include pigs who adopt a sitting position much like a dog, with their rump on the ground and their back legs out, along with showing severe pain on movement. A veterinarian should always be consulted to make this diagnosis.

Damage to muscles, tendons and ligaments: Pigs who are kept on surfaces such as concrete that can become slippery when wet or muddy can easily fall and damage their muscles, ligaments or tendons. They can also be injured when fighting, playing or mounting each other. When this happens, they may demonstrate many of the same symptoms as they do when a bone is fractured, so if you are uncertain of the cause of the lameness, it is always best to consult your vet. Most damaged muscles, ligaments and tendons require pen rest (away from the other pigs), and pain medication. Severe tears to the ligaments or tendons may need surgery, but again, must be diagnosed by your large animal veterinarian.


Lameness Caused by Infection:

Foot Rot/ Hoof Infections: This condition is a result of an infection of the claw, which becomes swollen and extremely painful around the coronary band (the area where the hoof meets the skin of the leg). It usually starts through an opening on the sole of the foot (caused by a puncture wound or cut), cracks at the coronary band, or from hoof splitting. The infection enters through the crack, or puncture wound, and progresses inside the hoof. The claw becomes enlarged and infection and inflammation of the joint often develops. Because the bone of the foot is so close to this area, left untreated, osteomyelitis (an infection in the bone) can occur and destroy those bones in the foot. Signs to look for include lameness/limping, swollen claw, or swelling and heat around the coronary band, which may form an abscess on the surface.

Treatment of this condition requires higher doses of antibiotics for longer time periods, since a poor blood supply travels to the infected tissue. Also, topical treatment and foot wraps to keep the abscess clean and prevent further infection may be required. Ichthammol wraps or the use of DMSO, are good to draw infection to the surface and enable you to clean out the surface infection. Antibiotic ointment wraps, or wraps using penicillin-based ointments (usually used in mastitis on cattle), are very helpful once the area is opened, although if caught in time, the infection may not come to the surface and wraps may not be needed.

Because of the weight of an adult domestic pig, prevention of this condition is difficult. Walking on frozen, rutted ground, or stepping on sharp stones, can cause cuts in the foot pads. Cracks are also a problem in older pigs due to the large amount of weight they carry. Adding Biotin, found in supplements such as Clovite, to the feed can help strengthen the hoof. In addition, because cracks are one of the main causes, treating them with Kopertox and keeping them clean is also helpful in preventing this condition. Because of the severity of this affliction, a vet should be consulted to provide antibiotic options and dosages.

Mycoplasma Arthritis: Micoplasma Arthritis is caused by an organism called Mycoplasma hyosynoviae, which is common in most commercial pig herds. It is actually a respiratory-spread disease since the organism is found in the upper respiratory tract of the pig. In many cases, although present, there are no clinical signs. In other cases it can cause serious problems when the organisms infect the joints and tendon sheaths, rather than the respiratory system directly. The clinical signs of the disease include the sudden onset of pain and stiffness, and the inability to get up without a great deal of stress and pain. To diagnose this type of Arthritis and to distinguish it from other causes of lameness, a vet will need to examine joint fluids for antibodies and isolation of the organism. Another way to determine if the cause of the problem is Mycoplasma Arthritis is if it does respond to antibiotic treatments. Because lameness in a pig can be caused by a number of conditions, it is always best to consult your vet for advice and treatment options, especially if they require antibiotics.


Spinal Cord, Leg and Foot Abscess: Pigs who come from factory farm situations have their tails docked and, in some cases, their ears notched. These procedures are done without anesthesia and, in many cases, in an unsterile manner. If the tail is docked or ears are notched improperly or in unsanitary conditions, bacteria enters the body through the area and remains in the system. If the immune system becomes compromised later in life, the bacteria can cause abscesses on the feet, legs and even on the spine. Leg and foot abscesses can be treated in most cases using heavy doses of antibiotics and leg and foot wraps. Spinal cord abscesses are not as obvious and not treatable. Abscesses on the spinal cord cause the pig great pain, neurological symptoms, seizures, and, eventually, death.