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An Investigation of Iron Deficiency and Anaemia in Piglets

09 April 2015

Delegates at the Centralia Swine Research Update 2015 heard from A. Kubik from the Univeristy of Guelph that today's large and fast-growing pigs are often iron-deficient and possibly anaemic at weaning and this could be adversely impacting post-weaning performance.

Centralia Canada

Introduction and Objectives

Iron supplementation is a necessary farm management practice and is carried out in order to prevent suckling piglets from developing iron deficiency and anaemia.

There are four reasons why piglets require supplemental iron within the first week of life:

  • limited iron stores at birth,
  • low content of iron in sow milk/colostrum
  • limited to no access to soil and
  • high iron demand due to rapid growth rate.1

A 200-mg dose of iron administered intramuscularly within the first week of life has been the accepted standard protocol for iron supplementation for many years.

The objectives of this study were to investigate whether current iron supplementation protocols are adequate to meet the needs of today’s piglets by determining the prevalence of anaemia or iron deficiency in piglets at the time of weaning and to determine whether iron status at the time of weaning affects post-weaning performance.


Twenty commercial swine farms were visited across Ontario. All farms used injectable iron supplementation given in the first week of life. Farms used either iron dextran or gleptoferron.

On each farm, three piglets (small, medium and large) per litter were chosen for the study and approximately 60 pigs per farms were sampled. Pigs (n=1,095) were sampled one to two days prior to weaning. Each piglet was individually weighed and had blood samples taken upon enrollment. Blood samples were submitted to the Animal Health Laboratory (AHL), University of Guelph for complete blood count (CBC) analysis.

Three weeks later, the same pigs were re-weighed and had a second blood sample taken which was analysed for haemoglobin concentration. The haemoglobin concentration from each piglet was defined as follows: normal (>110g per litre), iron-deficient (90 to 110g per litre) and anaemic (<90g per litre)2.

Producers completed a short questionnaire about their husbandry practices along with their iron supplementation methods.

Statistical analysis was designed to evaluate the association and to assess nursery performance between haemoglobin status at weaning and three-week post-weaning weight.


At weaning, the between-herd prevalence of iron deficiency and anaemia were 28 per cent and six per cent, respectively.

Anaemic pigs at weaning had a 0.81-kg reduction in their three-week post-weaning bodyweight compared to piglets with normal haemoglobin values at weaning.

Also, anaemic pigs at weaning had a 0.68-kg reduction in their three-week post-weaning bodyweight when compared to iron-deficient pigs at weaning.

The largest piglets at weaning had lower haemoglobin values than small pigs. The fastest growing suckling pigs have the largest blood volume, therefore their haemoglobin is diluted but in addition, these animals have the highest requirements for all nutrients.

Thus, rapidly growing piglets at weaning have higher iron requirements than smaller piglets.

The results from this study confirm that 200mg of injectable iron in the first week of life was often not sufficient to prevent anaemia or iron deficiency for the larger, faster growing pigs.

Anaemia at weaning associated with reduced growth in the first three weeks post-weaning. Surprisingly, piglets generally remained anaemic or iron-deficient during the three weeks post-weaning although starter rations were well fortified with iron.

Take Home Messages

Understanding the consequences of iron deficiency and anaemia is important for the swine industry and producers in order to prevent economic losses.

This project has demonstrated that large fast-growing pigs are often iron-deficient and possibly anaemic at weaning and this is having an impact on post-weaning performance.

However, more work is needed in order to determine if additional supplementation or different protocols are beneficial.

Pork producers need to re-evaluate their iron supplementation programme.

Acknowledgements: This work was supported by Ontario Pork and the University of Guelph-OMAFRA Research Partnership. The authors are grateful for the participation of pork producers and the assistance of AHL in analysing blood samples.


  1. Svoboda, M. and Drabek, J. 2005. Iron deficiency in suckling piglets: etiology, clinical aspects and diagnosis. Folia Vet, 49, 104-111.
  2. Nielson, J.P. et al. 2013. Herd diagnosis of iron deficiency in piglets. Proceedings European Symposium Porcine Health Management. p168.


Kubik A., T. O’Sullivan, J. Harding and R. Friendship. 2015. An investigation of iron deficiency and anaemia in piglets. Proceedings of 34th Annual Centralia Swine Research Update. 28 January 2015. I-1-I2.

Further Reading

You can view other papers from the Centralia 2015 Update by clicking here.

April 2015

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