Gastric Ulcers

This disease primarily affects sows, weaners and growers. The key clinical signs include pale pigs; black, tarry faeces; loss of body condition.
calendar icon 14 November 2018
clock icon 9 minute read

Background and history

Erosion and ulceration of the lining of the stomach is a common condition in sows and growing pigs. It occurs around the area where the food pipe (oesophagus) enters the stomach (called the pars oesophagea).

In the early stages of the disease this area becomes roughened and gradually changes as the surface becomes eroded until it is ulcerated. Intermittent bleeding may then take place leading to anaemia or massive haemorrhage may occur resulting in death. The incidence in sows is usually less than 5 percent; in growing pigs at slaughter it is up to 60 percent.

Haemorrhage from the bowel can also arise from the intestine in cases of bloody gut (porcine haemorrhagic enteropathy, 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.

Clinical signs

These depend on the severity of the condition.


Gastric ulcers are uncommon.

  • Often no symptoms.
  • Wasting.


  • Pale skin.
  • Weak.
  • Breathless.
  • Dehydration.
  • Grinding of the teeth due to stomach pain .
  • Passing of dark faeces containing digested blood.
  • Not eating.
  • Vomiting.
  • A tucked up appearance.
  • Anaemic appearance.
  • Previously healthy animals are found dead and very pale.

Weaners and growers

  • Previously healthy animals are found dead.
  • Anaemic appearance.
  • The most striking sign is the paleness of the carcass due to internal haemorrhage.
  • The affected pig is pale.
  • Weak.
  • Shows breathlessness.
  • Grinding of the teeth.
  • Vomiting.
  • The passing of dark faeces containing digested blood is often a persistent symptom.
  • The pig has an intermittent appetite and may lose weight.


This is based on the clinical signs and post mortem lesions. 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. An examination of stomachs at slaughter should be carried out.

Gastric ulcers must be differentiated from haemorrhage of the bowel, eperythrozoonosis, the red stomach worm Hyostrongylus rubidus and porcine enteropathy.


There is usually more than one causal factor. They may include nutritional factors, physical aspects of feed, management deficiencies, genetics, infections and miscellaneous factors..

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 percent.
  • 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 feed

  • 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.
    • 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.
  • Pelleting feeds in itself increases the incidence. Feed meal. However, sometimes changing from pellets to meal itself causes problems. A compromise is to feed alternatively.
  • Cereals with a high moisture content sometimes seem to contribute to ulcers.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Managemental factors that increase the incidence

  • Irregular feeding patterns and shortage of feeder space.
  • Increased stocking densities and movement of pigs or any other undue stresses including poor stockmanship.
  • Transportation.
  • Excessive aggression between sows.
  • Poor management of sows in stalls and tethers.
  • Noisy unsympathetic stockmanship in the farrowing rooms.
  • Periods of starvation.
  • Poor availability of food or water.
  • Fluctuating environmental temperatures.

Other infections

  • 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.


  • More common in certain genotypes particularly those that have low back fat measurements and a capacity for rapid lean tissue growth.

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.


Consider the above causes and their relevance to your situation. Make alterations and adjustments accordingly.


  • With such clinical signs and in the absence of anything more specific it is worthwhile feeding the sow on a high milk diet such as a first stage diet and assess the results.
  • 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.
  • In severe cases, cull affected pigs.

Emily Houghton

Editor, The Pig Site

Emily Houghton is a Zoology graduate from Cardiff University and was the editor of The Pig Site from October 2017 to May 2020. Emily has worked in livestock husbandry, and has written, conducted and assisted with research projects regarding the synthesis of welfare and productivity of free-range food species.

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