Effects of sickness on behaviour and resource use of pair-housed piglets

By ST Millman, KC Sheppard, A Gallien and JT Gray, Department of Population Medicine, University of Guelph - This article is taken from the University of Guelph Swine Research Review 2005 report. Sick animals often display characteristic behavioural changes including lethargy, anorexia, increased thermoregulatory behaviour, increased slow-wave sleep, avoidance of social contact, and reduced exploratory behaviour.
calendar icon 24 October 2005
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The motivation to display this behaviour during sickness has been described as a highly organized evolutionary strategy to combat infection and injury. However, the manner in which sick animals are housed may not allow for full expression of “sickness behaviour”, leading to longer recovery periods and increased use of antimicrobials. Little is known on the environmental resources a sick pig will use to aid in recovery.


The first objective of this study was to develop a reliable model for inducing non-infectious illness in swine. The second objective was to determine how one element of sickness, diarrhea, affects the behaviour and resource use of pair housed piglets.


A total of twelve piglets were used, over 3 trials. Piglets were balanced for sex, and housed in pairs in 4”x8” pens. Each pen contained a feed hopper and nipple drinker, a heat lamp, a cold plate, rubber comfort mats below the heat lamp and in a temperature-neutral area of the pen, an enclosed box for seclusion, a chain (toy), and a bristle brush for scratching. An oral antibiotic (ampicillin) was fed, mixed with jam, on two consecutive days, to disrupt intestinal function. Piglet behaviour was scored from time-lapse video recordings on one day before (day -1), and 2 days after (days +1 and +2) the first dose day. Severity of diarrhea was monitored several times daily.


Ampicillin induced diarrhea in all 12 piglets by day +1 and all pigs recovered by day+3. Piglets spent significantly less time resting on day +1 compared to day –1 (P<0.01). Significantly more time was spent resting under the heat lamp on day +1 compared to day –1 (P<0.005) and less oral nasal behaviour was directed at the pen or at pen mates on day +2 compared to day –1 ( P<0.05).

Take Home Message

A non-infectious sickness model was successfully developed using oral ampicillin to reliably induce mild to moderate diarrhea in weaned piglets. Piglets alter their behavioural patterns during diarrhea, and should be provided with sufficient heat lamps or mats to aid recovery. The increase in activity levels may be indicative of intestinal pain, and could be used as a pain assessment tool in future. The performance of less oral-nasal behaviours 48 hours after dosing may be associated with changes in the intestinal microflora as a result of the antibiotic.

Further Information

To see the full list of University of Guelph Swine Research Review 2005 articles, click here

Source: University of Guelph - Taken from Site October 2005

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