New Medications to Reduce Stress for Piglets

According to veterinary researchers at Iowa State University pain medication can be delivered to piglets through sow’s milk as the piglets nurse.

The study was devised as a means to deliver analgesic medication to piglets in preparation for castration and tail-docking. The medicine would be used to reduce stress and pain without having to inject each of the piglets prior to the procedures.

Previously, this had been a complicated procedure performed by veterinary technicians. And, despite training from qualified resources, such as, it remained dangerous.

“We wanted to find out if we can deliver medications to the piglets passively without having to handle and inject each one individually,” Hans Coetzee, professor of veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine at Iowa State, said. “Our results seem to demonstrate that this method has the potential to dramatically change how piglets are treated.”

Coetzee, along with Locke Karriker, associate professor of veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine, and Jessica Bates, a postdoctoral research associate, studied the possibility of introducing pain medication into the sow’s feed so it would be passed along to the piglets through nursing. The study was instigated because of the concern for pain management in animal husbandry.

Tail-docking and castrating of male piglets is common in the U.S. pork industry. Docking prevents pigs from injuring each other through biting of tails and castrating males prior to sexual maturity keeps the pork from developing an unpleasant taste called boar taint. Castration also reducing the male aggression level in pigs. The United States does not require pain medication be administered to piglets prior to the procedures, even though the European Union does.

The study used blood samples from the sow and the piglets to track the spread of medication after it was introduced in the mother’s food and thermal imaging, using a thermography camera, was used to measure temperature changes of the piglet’s heads after they went through the castration and/or tail-docking procedures.

Piglets that did not have the medicine showed a distinct drop in temperature, signifying a constricting of the blood vessels in and around the head. This constriction was likely caused by pain reducing blood flow. The piglets that received the medicine through nursing maintained a more constant blood flow during the procedures.

Piglets with mother.
Piglets with mother.