29 January 2024

Are biters sick? Health status of tail biters in comparison to control pigs

Young pigs in indoor production
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Czycholl, I., Büttner, K., Becker, D., Schwennen, C., Baumgärtner, W., Otten, W., Wendt, M., Puff, C. and Krieter, J. (2023)
Porcine Health Management. BMC 


BackgroundTail biting is a multifactorial problem. As the health status is one of the factors commonly linked to tail biting, this study focuses on the health of identified biters. 30 (obsessive) biters are compared to 30 control animals by clinical and pathological examination as well as blood and cerebrospinal fluid samples. In that way, altogether 174 variables are compared between the groups. Moreover, connections between the variables are analysed.

Results: In the clinical examination, 6 biters, but only 2 controls (P = 0.019) were noticeably agitated in the evalua- tion of general behaviour, while 8 controls were noticeably calmer (2 biters, P = 0.02). Biters had a lower body weight (P = 0.0007) and 13 biters had overlong bristles (4 controls, P = 0.008). In the pathological examination, 5 biters, but none of the controls had a hyperceratosis or inflammation of the pars proventricularis of the stomach (P = 0.018). However, 7 controls and only 3 biters were affected by gut inflammation (P = 0.03). In the blood sample, protein and albumin levels were below normal range for biters (protein: 51.6 g/l, albumin: 25.4 g/l), but not for controls (protein: 53.7 g/l, albumin: 27.4 g/l), (protein: P = 0.05, albumin: P = 0.02). Moreover, 14 biters, but only 8 controls had poikilocy- tosis (P = 0.05). Although not statistically different between groups, many animals (36/60) were affected by hypopro- teinemia and hyponatremia as well as by hypokalemia (53/60) and almost all animals (58/60) had hypomagnesemia. For hypomagnesemia, significant connections with variables linked to tail damage and ear necrosis were detected (rs/V/ρ ≥ 0.4, P ≤ 0.05).

Conclusion: The results suggest that behavioural tests might be helpful in identifying biters. Moreover, cornification and inflammation of the pars proventricularis is linked to becoming a biter. Furthermore, the results highlight the need for appropriate and adjusted nutrient and mineral supply, especially with regard to magnesium.

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