Keeping Pigs Healthy During a Stressful Show Season

From Pfizer Animal Health. Preventing disease is always better than treating disease.
calendar icon 25 September 2008
clock icon 6 minute read

"Preventing disease is always better than treating disease," says James F. Lowe, DVM, MS, Carthage, Illinois. "You want to keep your show pigs healthy and growing," he says. "It is imperative to pay attention to their health by working to help prevent disease and keep it from slowing down your road to the show ring." There are two completely different types of products to keep your pigs healthy: vaccines and anti-infectives (or antibiotics).


Prevention is provided by vaccines and a good biosecurity program. You can do two things: administer vaccines to help protect them, and reduce the pathogen challenges to which your pigs are exposed. Work with your veterinarian to develop an appropriate vaccination program.

Vaccines are used to stimulate immunity to help pigs fight a bacteria or virus when they are exposed. Commercially available vaccines are created to help protect pigs from specific strains of bacteria and viruses.

Most pigs are vaccinated when they are young because it sometimes takes weeks for the pigs to respond to the vaccine and build up enough immunity in their system to fight a disease challenge. Thus, pigs need to be vaccinated several weeks before they are moved or mixed with other pigs when they might come in contact with the disease-causing agent. In the same way you received several childhood vaccinations and booster shots, your parents and your doctor made sure you had your vaccinations before you went to school and were mixed in with other kids and exposed to disease.

It is very important to work with your veterinarian and to read and follow label directions when administering vaccines. Many vaccines require a second dose or booster shot. Often those two doses must be administered at specific intervals to create good immunity.


A good biosecurity program starts by isolating or physically separating pigs and observing them for a period of time before they re-enter the herd. Pigs taken to a show should be kept by themselves for about a month to determine if they are going to become sick. If they have been exposed to a disease, you might be able to contain the problem to only those pigs that traveled if they are properly isolated. A good isolation rule to follow is keeping pigs separated by at least 300 feet (90 metres) away for 30 days.

Limit traffic on the farm to only necessary vehicles. You should also wash and disinfect the hog trailer after each show. Take out all the shavings and take the trailer to a local car wash to be cleaned with hot water and soap. Any equipment that is transported to the show, including feed pans, water pails, brushes, panels etc., should be washed and disinfected after each show.

Keep your show equipment in a separate part of the barn and do not use it for chores at home. You can purchase disinfectant from your veterinarian or your local farm store, or make your own by putting an ounce of household bleach into a gallon of hot water. Sunshine aids in killing bacteria so let your equipment dry completely in the sun if you can.

Disease Pressure

Most swine diseases are passed by pig-to-pig contact. The stress of transportation, mixing and moving your pigs from show to show can put stress on your pig's immune system or its ability to fight disease. Mixing pigs next to other pigs and moving them around from your farm to a show can create a condition where the pig could get sick. It is important to watch your pigs closely for signs of disease after a show. It's important to minimize the risk of disease by doing as much as you can to reduce the stress on your animals and by reducing their exposure to disease.


Even with all the best preventive measures, pigs sometimes get sick and need treatment. Anti-infectives (or antibiotics) may be needed to fight the bacteria that make pigs sick and get your pigs back to a healthy, growing condition again. Anti-infectives do not work on viruses, but do work on the opportunistic bacterial infections that come in after the pig is compromised by a virus. Not all antibiotics work on all bacterial infections, so choosing the right one is crucial.

Anti-infectives work quickly to kill the bacteria that are making the pig sick. Some of these products are broad-spectrum treatments that may treat more than one bacterium at the same time. For example, one long-acting, single-dose product such as Draxxin® (tulathromycin) Injectable Solution is the only product that treats the five most common bacteria that cause respiratory disease in pigs: Actinobacillus pleuropneumoniae, Pasteurella multocida, Bordetella bronchiseptica, Haemophilus parasuis and Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae. Draxxin has a five-day pre-slaughter withdrawal time. More information is available on the web site (see below).

Work with your veterinarian to determine the proper dosage of each product to be given and to make sure that the antibiotic is right for your pig. In the same way you would not take antibiotics for an infection without consulting your physician, be sure your pigs are getting the proper dose for their weight and age.

Another important factor to remember is administering a full course of treatment. Some products seem to be effective after one shot; others may take a follow-up dose to help your sick pig regain its health. Your pigs may appear to be getting better and then relapse if they are not given the full course of treatment.

Withdrawal Times

Be sure to work with your veterinarian to know the proper withdrawal times before slaughter. Both vaccines and anti-infective products have publicized withdrawal times or days from the time you administer the product to when your pig may be slaughtered.

The only way to be sure you are using animal health products properly is to read and follow all directions on the product label and to work with your veterinarian. For full prescribing information, click here.

Further Reading

- For more information on Draxxin from Pfizer Animal Health, click here.

September 2008
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