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Gastric Ulcers

(624) Erosion and ulceration of the lining of the stomach is a common condition in all pigs. It occurs around the area where the oesophagus enters the stomach (called the pars oesophagea). In the early stages of the disease the pars becomes roughened and gradually changes as the surface becomes eroded until it is actively ulcerated. Intermittent haemorrhage may then take place leading to anaemia, or massive haemorrhage may occur resulting in death. The incidence in sows is usually less than 5% but in growing pigs up to 60% may show lesions at slaughter.

The causes of gastric ulceration are multifactorial. These can be categorised as nutritional and related to the physical properties of the feed, managemental, infectious causes and miscellaneous factors.

The following need to be considered as causal or contributory:

Nutritional factors:

  • Low protein diets.
  • Low fibre diets. (The introduction of straw reduces the incidence).
  • High energy diets.
  • High levels of wheat in excess of 55%.
  • Deficiencies of vitamin E or selenium.
  • Diets containing high levels of iron, copper or calcium.
  • Diets low in zinc.
  • Diets with high levels of unsaturated fats.
  • Diets based on whey and skimmed milk.
Physical aspects of the diet that increase the incidence:
  • Size of feed particle - the more finely ground the meal the smaller becomes the particle size and the higher the incidence of ulcers. This is still the case if the feed is then pelleted.
  • Pelleting feeds in itself increases the incidence. Feed meal.
  • Particle size. Where there is a problem on the farm have the feed examined to assess the varying percentages of particle sizes. This is carried out by sifting the meal through a series of 12 to 14 tiller screens and weighing the residual amounts remaining in each screen. Particle size is also affected by the type and moisture content of the cereals that are being used, the condition of the hammer mills and the screen and the rate of flow through the grinding system. The smaller the particle size the greater the incidence.
  • Sometimes there can be problems in changing from pellets to meal and a compromise is to feed alternatively.
  • If the feed is home-produced and is meal, then it is necessary to check the size and quality of the screen that is being used.
  • Using cereals with a high moisture content.
  • Rolling cereals as distinct from grinding them will often produce a dramatic drop in the incidence but the penalties of feed use have to be taken into consideration.
Managemental factors that increase the incidence:
  • Irregular feeding patterns and shortage of feeder space.
  • Periods of starvation.
  • Increased stocking densities and movement of pigs. Look carefully at the environment in the pens and in finishing houses. Are there undue stresses or aggressions.
  • Poor management of sows in stalls and tethers.
  • Transportation.
  • Poor availability of food or water.
Miscellaneous factors:
  • Stress associated with fluctuating environmental temperatures.
  • Adverse environmental conditions that create an unhappy environment.
  • Psychological stress resulting from bad or harsh stockmanship.
  • The condition is more common in castrates and boars than in gilts but the reason for this is unknown. Difference in feeding patterns may be a factor.
  • Split sexing may help.
  • Breed. More common in certain genotypes particularly those that have low back fat measurements and a capacity for rapid lean tissue growth.
Infectious causes:
  • There is a clear relationship between outbreaks of pneumonia and the incidence of gastric ulceration.
  • Ulceration may occur following bacterial septicaemias such as those associated with erysipelas and swine fever.
  • In the breeding sow gastric ulceration is usually confined to the individual animal and is often secondary to a specific disease.
Clinical signs

These depend on the severity of the condition. In its most acute form previously healthy animals are found dead. The most striking sign in these cases is the paleness of the carcase due to internal haemorrhage. In the less acute form the affected pig is pale, and weak, and may show breathlessness, grinding of the teeth due to stomach pain and vomiting. The passing of dark faeces containing digested blood is often a persistent symptom. Usually the temperature is normal. When the condition becomes chronic the pig has an intermittent appetite and may lose weight. The faeces vary from normal to dark coloured depending on the presence or absence of blood. Feed intake, feed efficiency and daily gain can be affected.


Ulceration should always be considered in sows or pigs which are pale, lose body condition and develop a variable appetite particularly if the faeces are black and tarry. A sample of faeces should be examined for the presence of blood and to eliminate parasites. Although the disease is usually confined to individuals or less than 5% of sows, occasionally it can become a herd problem. In such cases poor body condition is widespread through the breeding herd.

Whenever black tarry faeces are seen gastric ulceration should be suspected and in the feeding herd an examination of stomachs at slaughter should be carried out.

Similar diseases

Haemorrhage from the bowel can also arise from the intestine in cases of bloody gut (PHE) but usually this is confined to young gilts and growing pigs.

Anaemia in pigs can also be associated with eperythrozoonosis, the stomach worm Hyostrongylus rubidus, chronic mange and porcine enteropathy. Nutritional deficiencies particularly of minerals and vitamins can increase the incidence.


  • Move the affected animal from its existing housing into a loose bedded peaceful environment.
  • Feed a weaner type diet containing highly digestible materials.
  • Inject multi vitamins and in particular vitamin E together with 0.5 to 1g of iron intramuscularly and repeat on a weekly basis.
  • Add an extra 100g vitamin E / tonne to the diet for two months and assess the results.
  • Cull affected pigs.
Management control and prevention
  • Consider the above factors and their relevance to your situation. Make alterations and adjustments accordingly.

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