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Udder Oedema and Failure of Milk Let Down

(308) This presents itself as a failure of milk let down associated with excess fluid in the mammary tissues and is a condition seen in both gilts and sows. It is characterised by a clinically normal animal with no fever or loss of appetite. The distinguishing features are a firmness of all the glands, discomfort on high pressure but no actual pain. The oedema or fluid can be both in the skin and deep in the udder tissue. The pressure produced in the glands once farrowing has ceased prevents a good milk flow and there is a reduction in both the quantity and quality of the colostrum which means a lowered immune status of the piglet. Severe oedema, particularly in the rear glands may result in poor accessibility of teats at sucking time. Such glands often dry off. When piglets eventually find the teat they will not thrive but waste away.

Clinical signs

Usually there is a history on the farm of poor milking amongst all ages and one or two pigs per litter having to be fostered at around 5 to 7 days of age due to poor growth. Scouring problems can sometimes be related back to udder oedema and a poor intake of colostrum. Palpitation of the udder shows fluid either just beneath the skin or deep in the gland and often extending between the legs towards the vulva. The vulva is also often involved.


This is based on the demonstration of oedema of the udder, by appearance and palpation and the appearance of the litter. Oedema and congestion can lead to mastitis.


  • Recognise the condition early and medicate.
  • Treat the sow with small doses of oxytocin (1/2 to 1 ml) every 4 to 6 hours on four occasions.
  • Supplement the piglets with artificial milk and make water available in dishes.
  • Give a preventative injection of long-acting antibiotic either penicillin, amoxycillin or OTC if there are any signs of mastitis.
Management control and prevention

Whilst udder oedema usually occurs in individual animals it can become a problem at a herd level. If this is the case the following actions should be considered:

  • Look at feed levels and the development of the udder 7 to 10 days pre-farrowing. Excessive tissue growth can be associated with high feed intake, particularly high energy levels.
  • Maintain sows on the same bulk level of feed pre-farrowing and from the time of entering the farrowing house to two days post-farrowing.
  • Use the same ration pre-farrowing until two days post-farrowing and then change to a lactation ration.
  • Low water intake 2 to 3 days before farrowing can also predispose. Add water to dry feed.
  • Constipation can be a predisposing factor. Bacterial toxins become absorbed from the gut and interfere with the circulation in the udder tissue. In some cases a response will be obtained by feeding increased levels of fibre before farrowing to increase bulk and reduce constipation.
  • Alternatively the levels of feed can be reduced but it is important to increase the fibre content with bran or other available fibre source. A typical example would be 2kg of breeding diet with 0.5 - 0.75kg of bran. This is better fed wet in the trough to improve palatability.
  • A change from straw yards into farrowing houses is associated with a marked reduction in fibre intake. In such cases give the sow straw for the first 3 to 4 days pre-farrowing.

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