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Arthritis - Joint Infections

See also chapter 9.

(353) Joint infections in the sucking piglet are very common. They are invariably infectious in origin, the sources of infection either being respiratory spread from the sow, or through the skin as a result of some form of trauma, which allows the organisms to enter the system. The common bacteria include Actinobacillus suis, Haemophilus parasuis, (glässers disease), very occasionally mycoplasma infections, staphylococci, but most commonly Streptococcus suis serotypes. Most of these respond well to antibiotic therapy but treatment must be given early at the onset of disease.

Clinical signs

They are seen from 2 to 10 days of age. At the early onset the pig is laid on its belly, shivering slightly and with its hair stood on end. Stiffness or lameness involving one or more legs is evident. It is a common belief that the infection enters through the navel at birth, but this is unlikely. It is most likely to have gained entry via the tonsils. If the claws are involved infection has probably arisen from damage by the sow, bad slats or poor floor surfaces. The hock and elbow joints are often visibly swollen. Whilst lameness is the most common symptom, if the organism gains access to the blood stream and a septicaemia results death may occur before the arthritis develops.


This is by clinical observation of lameness and the swollen joints. In well managed herds the numbers of piglets requiring treatment should be less than 2%. Where there are problems this could rise to as high as 10 to 15%. Streptococcus suis type 14 can cause severe sudden outbreaks of arthritis with acute pain.


  • Treatment of the infected pig could include one of the following antibiotics: lincomycin, penicillin and streptomycin, oxytetracycline, amoxycillin, ampicillin, trimethoprim/sulpha, enrofloxacin, ceftiofur and framycetin. Inject daily for five days. Long-acting preparations can also be used and these should be injected every other day. Antibiotic penetration of the joint is slow. The choice will depend on the organism, the antibiotic sensitivity and the best response obtained.
  • Cortisone or other anti inflammatory medicines can be of value.
Management control and prevention
  • Check the mouths of the piglets to see that they are not infected following teeth clipping.
  • Check the teeth clippers. Hold them to the light to make sure the edges are not damaged. If light is showing through abandon them and use a new pair.
  • Make sure the teeth clippers are washed in warm soap and water between litters.
  • Do not use the same instrument for removing both teeth and the tails.
  • Preferably remove tails either by scalpel blade or sharp scissors to produce a clean cut to the surface. This will bleed a little but it will clot over with a minimum risk of infection.
  • Check that iron injections are carried out hygienically with a sharp needle.
  • Check for trauma to the piglet, particularly scrubbed knees, legs or tail.
  • If there is a problem on the farm submit samples to the laboratory to identify the organism.
  • In severe cases preventative medication of the sow pre-farrowing may help particularly if the organism is spread by the respiratory route.
  • Where there are bad floor surfaces brush these over with hydrated lime.
  • Preventive medication - Administer a long-acting antibiotic injection 3 to 4 days prior to the expected onset of disease. Oxytetracycline, amoxycillin, ampicillin, ceftiofur or penicillin could be used. Most streptococci are sensitive to penicillin.
  • Sometimes the skin of the sow is a source of infection. In such cases spray a skin antiseptic onto the udder one day before and two days after farrowing. Iodine dairy teat dips are ideal.

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