The main stomach ulcer that affects pigs is the oesophago-gastric ulcer, which occurs in the non-glandular pars oesophagea (the small area of the stomach near the oesophagus).
Although little information exists on the herd prevalence of gastric ulcers, examinations at slaughter have shown erosive lesions in more than 50 per cent of pigs from a number of commercial piggeries.
In one very large piggery, gastric ulcers were the most significant cause of death in grower pigs.
The cause of gastric ulcers is unknown, though it appears that ulceration is closely related to feeding diets that contain finely ground ingredients. Several predisposing factors have been suggested as influencing the occurrence of ulcers: dietary, stress-related, hereditary and even microbial.
Because gastric ulcers are difficult to reproduce experimentally, current theories suggest that the cause is actually the result of several factors.
The clinical signs of gastric ulceration or abnormality range in severity from the subclinical form with no clinical signs to the peracute form where animals can be found dead. Table 2 details the various clinical forms and the differential diagnosis.
You can conduct a simple on-farm post-mortem examination of the stomach of any dead pigs (looking for blood or obvious lesion in the stomach), referring to your veterinarian for advice. Submitting a pig that has recently died unexpectedly to a laboratory (in collaboration with your vet) for a post-mortem is the ideal way to confirm that the pig died from gastric ulceration.
You can also monitor the level of the disease in a herd by inspecting pigs at slaughter. This requires a check for stomach lesions or abnormalities. Generally, unless specifically requested by farms with consistent ulcer problems, pig stomachs are not monitored routinely at the abattoir because of the extra time needed to empty and clean them to enable the evaluation.
Treatment and Control
Animals that survive the acute form or that are suffering from the chronic form should be isolated in a separate pen to reduce stress from bullying by pen mates. They should be given coarsely ground diets supplemented with iron, vitamin K or any blood stimulating agents. If pulmonary oedema or pneumonia are additional problems, veterinary advice may include antibiotic therapy.
If several animals are suspected of having ulcers, initial antibiotic supplementation as an adjunct to feeding a coarsely ground diet may be recommended. This will help stablise the ulcer at least until dispatch to slaughter (observing antibiotic withholding periods).
In a piggery with continual ulcer problems, alterations in diets and pig husbandry may be required to reduce the effect of ulceration mortalities on farm income.