Prevent Pigs Dehydration

Young Animal : Management

Dan McManus

DVM - Young Animal Swine Specialist

The pig weaning period is a critical part of the production phase. Current disease challenges can make this transition even more stressful for young pigs.  
Pigs that are impacted with Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDV)1 experience severe diarrhea, vomiting and reduced feed intake, resulting in extreme dehydration. Without supportive therapy, almost 100 percent mortality rates have been measured in infected pigs less than 4 weeks of age.2

How can we help stressed and dehydrated pigs overcome this challenge? And the challenges associated with weaning, transportation and environmental changes? The answer may come down to the basics: a comfortable environment, palatable feeds and hydration support.

Maintain a comfortable, clean environment
When dealing with challenged pigs, the importance of the environment is enlarged, meaning any mistakes may become magnified. To help pigs overcome stress challenges, examine and redefine targets for success.
Temperature: Health-challenged pigs need a warmer environment than normal, healthy weaned pigs of the same age. For challenged pigs, nurseries should be 85 degrees F, mats in wean-to-finish barns should be 85 to 90 degrees F and, as pigs age, barn temperature can be decreased to 78 to 80 degrees F.3
Air quality: Maintain consistent and adequate ventilation to remove undesirable compounds such as ammonia, dust and pathogens. Strive for a clean, dry, draft-free environment with access to clean, high-quality drinking water.

Health checks: Conduct a thorough health check on each pig every day. Use a pass/fail grade for each. Remove any that fail from the group and manage these fallouts in a separate group. In addition, on day 3 or 4 post-weaning, evaluate each pen of pigs for fallouts. Look for pigs that appear to not be gaining weight, or are falling behind. Remove these fallout pigs from the group and provide supportive care. Conduct a second pen evaluation at day 10 or 11 post-weaning. Again, remove any pigs falling behind and provide supportive care.4
Provide a palatable feed
Feed intake is low the first 5 days post-weaning. In research trials on weaned pigs averaging 11.7 pounds, feed intake was less than 0.1 pounds per pig per day in the first two days. Feed intake increased to 0.6 pounds per head per day by day 8.5 A key in mitigating mortality in challenged pigs can be to decrease the number of days off-feed. 

UltraCare® Creep Feed can decrease the post-weaning lag as it provides familiarity with feed before the transition. Palatability and familiarity of the feed can help pigs visit the feeding area. Select a pre- and post-weaning ration that is highly palatable with complex ingredients to encourage feed consumption and jumpstart the digestive tract.

Creep feed 3-5 days prior to weaning at a rate of 1.5 to 2.5 pounds of dry feed per day per litter. Offering dry feed pre-weaning can create eaters and ease the transition onto a solely dry feed diet.6 Providing this start is designed to help pigs transition onto an easily digestible starter feed post-weaning.

Support hydration
Research shows that only 51 percent of pigs consume water 25 hours post-weaning.7 For challenged pigs, this delay in hydration can be deadly.

Any delay in water consumption can be problematic because pigs’ bodyweight is about 55 percent water. In young, lean pigs bodyweight can be up to 70 percent water. If a pig loses just 15 percent of its water weight, mortality rates may rise.8 For pigs impacted by PEDV, water levels drop significantly very quickly.
That’s where electrolytes can help, says the National Pork Board.9
UltraCare® Electrolytes provide nutrients such as sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium and magnesium which can help minimize the impacts of stress. Electrolytes added to a water medicator can be an effective tool to help challenged pigs stay hydrated.10 Researchers at the Purina Animal Nutrition Center recommend providing electrolytes post weaning for 5-to-7 days.
In pigs experiencing PEDV or other viruses, supportive therapy with electrolytes is even more critical. Electrolytes may be administered until pigs no longer show symptoms of the disease. It takes young pigs about 21 days to regrow its villae from an attack of a virus. That means you may need to administer electrolytes during that entire time to help pigs address the health challenge.11
When provided electrolytes during a University of Manitoba study, water consumption levels increased significantly. Early weaned piglets drank more water with electrolytes in the first three days post-weaning (3.748 L/pig/24h) than tap water (836 ml/pig/24h).12
Hydration support also comes in gel form. UltraCare® Gel supports hydration and nutrition with a formulation that is 2/3 water and 1/3 solids. This combination aids in the transition to dry pellets, helps keep pigs hydrated and supporting intestinal health.13 Pigs can be started on the gel while still nursing. Doing so helps lessen the demands on the sow while ensuring adequate hydration and nutrients for the pigs.
Research conducted at the Purina Animal Nutrition Center shows multiple benefits of offering gel to weaned pigs, including:
  • Pigs fed gel consumed more feed and experienced higher average daily gains than pigs not consuming gel in the first 4-to-7 days.14
  • Pig weights were higher at day 36 for pigs that received gel compared to those that did not.15
  • Pigs fed gel during the nursery period experienced 55.5 percent fewer removals.16
  • Providing gel to pigs less than 10 pounds or more than 13 pounds at weaning resulted in 3.83 and 3.3 pounds heavier finishing weights than their counterparts who did not receive the gel.17
  • Pigs fed gel prior to post-weaning vaccinations had higher feed intakes from days 8-to-14 post-weaning. Their counterparts who did not receive gel experienced three days of decreased feed intake following vaccination. As a result, at exit from the nursery gel-fed pigs were 1.3 pounds heavier.18
 In each of these trials, the benefit to the pigs came through quicker transition onto solid feeds.

1“PEDv Resources.” National Pork Board. http://www.pork.org/Research/4316/PEDVResources.aspx#.U9KLAbHpUZc. 24 July 2014.
2“Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDv) – What is it?” National Pork Board. http://www.pork.org/Research/4316/PEDVResources.aspx#.U9KLAbHpUZc. 24 July 2014. 
3Baker, John. “Effective environmental temperature.” American Association of Swine Veterinarianshttps://www.aasv.org/shap/issues/v12n3/v12n3ptip.html. 24 July 2014. 
4McManus, Dan. “Managing the Challenged Pig.” Purina Animal Nutrition. 15 July 2014.
5“UltraCare Gel Research.” Purina Animal Nutrition Center Study. 2009.
6Bierlein, Becky. “How to minimize nursery fallouts.” Pork Magazine. Nov/Dec. 2013.
7Varley and Stockill. 2001.
8Bierlein, Becky. “How to minimize nursery fallouts.” Pork Magazine. Nov/Dec. 2013.
9“Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDv) – What is it?” National Pork Board. http://www.pork.org/Research/4316/PEDVResources.aspx#.U9KLAbHpUZc24 July 2014.
10Bierlein, Becky. “How to minimize nursery fallouts.” Pork Magazine. Nov/Dec. 2013.
11K. R. Cera, D. C. Mahan, R. F. Cross, G. A. Reinhart and R. E. Whitmoyer. “Effect of Age, Weaning and Postweaning Diet on Small Intestine Growth and Jejunal Morphololgy in Young Swine.”Journal of Animal Sciencehttp://www.journalofanimalscience.org/content/66/2/574.full.pdf. 31 July 2014.
12Lewis, Nora. “Use of electrolytes to encourage early feed consumption.” University of Manitoba. http://www.prairieswine.com/pdf/36108.pdf. 24 July 2014.
13Bierlein, Becky. “How to minimize nursery fallouts.” Pork Magazine. Nov/Dec. 2013.
14Purina Animal Nutrition Center, PS-919. 2008.
15Purina Animal Nutrition Center, PS-919. 2008.
16Purina Animal Nutrition Center, PS-846, 847, 849, 850, 864.
17UltraCare® trials: PS-846, 847, 849, 850, 864, Purina Animal Nutrition Center. 2003.
18Iowa State University, 2007.