SHIC/AASV Webinar Gives Specifics on Lameness Experiences, Management, and Diagnosis

Lameness and arthritis management were the subject of a webinar sponsored by the Swine Health Information Center (SHIC) and American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV) on October 13, 2020. Video and audio recordings of the webinar are available here. Dr. Kathleen Wood, Christensen Farms, in her presentation said, in her experience, lameness is the number one cause of mortality in mid to late finishing stage pigs. Understanding the causes, costs, and methods of managing can help address consequences of lameness and arthritis. Dr. Wood was joined by nutritionist Dr. Paul Cline, Christensen Farms, practitioner Dr. Michael Eisenmenger, Swine Vet Center, and diagnosticians Dr. Michael Rahe, Iowa State University (ISU) and Dr. Stephanie Rossow, University of Minnesota. The latest in a series of webinars addressing swine industry chatter, this event provided participants’ experience, recommendations, and direction for addressing these issues which have been on the rise, per submissions to veterinary diagnostic labs (VDLs). The webinar was conducted by ISU’s Swine Medicine Education Center.

Drs. Eisenmenger and Wood said solving the issue of lameness requires veterinarians to be in barns, observing animals, as well as performing necropsies to define the cause of lameness. Dr. Eisenmenger recommended combining resources to examine flow, health, nutrition, and operations as causes of lameness and working together to identify issues. The best chance for success, he advised, is to work in a manner that increases the opportunity for answers when working with VDLs.

During her presentation, Dr. Wood said she had farms where 10 to 25% stiffness in grow-finish pigs grew to 25 to 40% this year. She attributes the increase to a variety of factors including infectious arthritis, injury or trauma, as well as leg conformation problems or defects. Additionally, she attributes some of the increase in incidence to increased awareness of stiffness after a return to closer observation as barn visits resumed after a lag due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Wood believes anti-inflammatory injectables are an important treatment, relieving pain and related issues. However, their use is variable and may be difficult to manage with potential issues revolving around withdrawal times for grow-finish pigs. She also recommends looking upstream for possible origin of stiffness/lameness problems including sow nutrition, sow farm medications, and pre-farrow vaccinations.

Critical to management is field communication. Dr. Wood believes continual training of staff to recognize and properly identify issues is essential, working from the premise lameness and stiffness are not part of “normal.” She also recommends more practitioner field time, necropsies, and pursuing diagnostics. In fact, she said, “Necropsy everything.” including popping open joints, snapping ribs, and identifying broken bones during routine necropsies versus only in infection/abscess presence.

Dr. Wood’s colleague at Christensen Farms, Dr. Paul Cline, shared a nutritionist’s perspective during the webinar. He said the industry needs to do better at understanding the interactions between health and nutrition. One of the ways to deal with that is to nurture the agreement that veterinarians and nutritionists are working toward the same goal. He also believes a more robust standard reference resource for bone characteristics is necessary.

Dr. Cline talked about how the consequences of an out-of-feed event aren’t truly understood in terms of how quickly bone ash changes. Another area in need of examination involves components that need to be measured to understand impact on bone. This includes boron levels in feed, impact of intake level on bone development, as well as seasonality. 

For getting the best results when seeking results from submissions to VDLs, Dr. Michael Rahe of the ISU Veterinary Diagnostic Lab, offered these best practices:

Dr. Rahe said acutely affected pigs are better than chronic pigs for sample submission and agent isolation. Sampled pigs should represent what is being observed in the herd. He also emphasized that findings/diagnosis in one pig could be an isolated case and not necessarily representative of the herd. Correspondingly, the same finding in multiple animals then adds confidence in a herd level diagnosis.

Dr. Stephanie Rossow of the University of Minnesota VDL began her presentation by emphasizing that structure of the pig is directly tied to function, so addressing lameness concerns is essential. She said abnormal structure equals abnormal function with related consequences affecting pig health and performance. Understanding of disease initiators versus promoters also helps develop effective prevention and treatment protocols. Dr. Rossow emphasized the importance of using a diagnostic lab, saying VDLs have the people, time, and tools for extensive investigation. Dr. Rossow shared many images from VDL investigation of lameness, describing the process and results of their work.

Previous webinars in this series have covered viral myelitis, tracheitis, and coccidiosis. Ideas for future webinars are welcome. Please submit to SHIC Executive Director Dr. Paul Sundberg at [email protected].

As the world deals with the COVID-19 pandemic, SHIC continues to focus efforts on prevention, preparedness, and response to novel and emerging swine disease for the benefit of US swine health. As a conduit of information and research, SHIC encourages sharing of its publications and research. Forward, reprint, and quote SHIC material freely. SHIC is funded by America’s pork producers to fulfill its mission to protect and enhance the health of the US swine herd. For more information, visit or contact Dr. Sundberg at [email protected].