Battling More Arthritis

A thorough and complete diagnosis is needed to correctly treat swollen joints and lameness in pigs.

As I approach the big “5-0,” I am gaining a new appreciation for the term arthritis — especially after working out with my college-aged sons at the gym. I also see my still-very-active mother, using a cane for assistance due to osteoarthritis in her knees and hips. So while the joint pain and arthritis we deal with is most often age- or injury-related, why is it that we battle arthritis in pigs from birth to market?

Data from Iowa State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (ISU-VDL) suggest an increase in infectious arthritis and lameness in pigs. Arthritis in pigs can be initiated by disease, environment, body structure, nutrition, etc. It is imperative to do a thorough diagnostic workup to ensure it is treated correctly.

Case Study No. 1

A well-managed, 1,200-sow, farrow-to-finish operation battles swollen joints and lameness in piglets 14-21 days of age. The clinical signs usually occur just prior to weaning. Over time, multiple diagnostic samples have revealed a plethora of agents, including Streptococcus suis, Haemophilus parasuis and Mycoplasma hyorhinis.

To date, we have not found a silver-bullet treatment. Control has involved a variety of therapies:

  • Autogenous vaccine
  • Sanitation/disinfection
  • Serial antibiotic treatments
  • Ventilation fine-tuning
  • Management protocols: navel cord management, instrument management.
  • Sow herd stabilization for porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) and swine influenza viruses.

The lesson from this farm is that a single therapy may not always produce the desired results, so multiple therapies may be required.

Case Study No. 2

The manager of a wean-to-finish facility called about an increasing number of lame, “dog-sitting” pigs. Individual pigs were treated with injectable antibiotics, but the number of cases kept rising.

Investigating the large-pen facility revealed active, apparently healthy pigs on my initial walk through the rooms. But as I slowly walked back to the entrance, it became apparent that there were a large number of lame pigs dog-sitting, slow to rise and tiptoeing, trying not to bear weight.

Necropsies and diagnostics revealed Mycoplasma hyosynoviae. Injectable antibiotics were continued, along with water and feed medication. The process to complete normalcy took 5-6 weeks, but the final results led to an exceptional closeout of pigs for average daily gain, feed efficiency, mortality and culls.

Monitoring lameness as pigs near 100 lb. and quicker implementation of water medications havereduced cases.

Case Study No. 3

I was called to examine lameness in market-weight pigs at a 4,800-head, wean-to-finish facility. Upon arrival, the manager also pointed out one dog-sitting pig with red blotches on the skin.

The skin lesions were slightly raised and had a distinctive diamond shape. Necropsy lesions and follow-up diagnostics were positive for erysipelas. There were several other pigs experiencing painful rear limbs and swollen hocks, but no skin lesions. My diagnosis was erysipelas and M. hyosynoviae.

Considering the weight and size of the pigs, treatment options were limited. We ran aspirin in the water for inflammation and pain relief. Severely affected animals were injected with antibiotics and held for proper withdrawal time. The producer now vaccinates for erysipelas, and we are monitoring for future outbreaks.

Case Study No. 4

A client was preparing for the county fair when two pigs developed acute rear lameness, with swelling and redness of the hocks. Pigs were feverish and had also backed off feed. The weather had been very hot, and misters were running almost continuously; the bedding was wet and the concrete slick. One pig had a slight “head tilt.”

We elected to treat for Strepococcus suis, which can show symptomatically as head tilt and/or swollen, hot joints.

Fortunately, the pig responded well and recovered just in time for the fair. Proper withdrawal times were observed. We also made sure the misters were not being left on, and that bedding was changed if it became wet. Drying powder was used on the concrete to prevent slippage.


Diagnosing arthritis cases and lameness in pigs simply is not simple! There are multiple causes and risk factors, including health, environment, structure, nutrition and a multitude of stress factors that can lead to arthritis.

Do not tarry when clinical signs are seen. Call your veterinarian, get a diagnosis, and implement treatment and prevention therapies. Delaying treatments can lead to poor prognosis on individual pigs and higher morbidity for the herd. Our industry must continue to find solutions to this increasing trend in arthritis and lameness one step at a time!


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