Causes of Lameness in Pigs
Pig Farming in South Africa

©National Pork Board and the Pork Checkoff, Des Moines, IA, USA
Non-slip flooring: Non-slip flooring will help to prevent injuries.
The South African Pork Producers Organisation (SAPPO) in its Pigs for Profit production manual, identifies the following as the most common causes of lameness and paralysis in pigs.

Broken Bones

©National Pork Board and the Pork Checkoff, Des Moines, IA, USA
Sows on sawdust: Bedding may obtain infection causing bacteria.
Pigs may break bones at any age, due to injury or bone problems. A pig that has broken a bone, may not be putting any weight on the broken limb, the limb might be carried off the ground, the pig might not be getting up, the limb may be deformed or swollen or make a grinding noise when moved.
Broken bones and injuries may be avoided through good handling, having non-slippery, even, dry, floors and by not overcrowding animals. SAPPO suggests that pigs with broken bones be slaughtered as soon as possible to prevent a further deterioration in the health of the animal and to reduce the animal’s suffering.

Spinal Injuries and Abscesses

Spinal injuries or abscesses may be due to injuries caused by a hard blow across the back of the spine, the animal slipping and twisting or a boar being too heavy for a sow. Infections, due to tail biting for example, may result in abscesses in the spine. These conditions will result in the pig either remaining in a dog-sitting position and dragging its hindquarters to move or remain in a lying position.
As with broken bones, it can be prevented through good handling, having non-slippery, even, dry floors and not overcrowding animals. Care should also be taken not to use much larger boars on sows and to prevent tail-biting, which is usually attributed to overcrowding, not enough feeding space and high disease levels. Sows that have been injured, may recover with rest, but serious spinal injuries and abscesses may not respond to treatment.

Bone Problems

©National Pork Board and the Pork Checkoff, Des Moines, IA, USA
Piglets should receive balanced rations to prevent nutritional deficiencies that may lead to bone problems.
Bones that become soft or brittle are caused by poor quality feed that does not supply the pig with enough calcium or phosphorous. Signs of a nutritional deficiency may already be seen early in the production cycle as abnormal bone growth in the nursery or growing pigs. Whereas recurrent deficiencies or those seen later in the finishing phase may result in weak bones that leads to the early slaughtering of affected pigs. Affected pigs may be limping, suffering from broken bones or be unable to get up.
To avoid this problem, farmers should give their pigs a balanced diet throughout the production cycle. Farmers should also be aware of the impact of excessive water hardness or high concentrations of iron or heavy metals in water as these can antagonize trace mineral absorption, which can lead to the development of foot lesions. An added source of calcium or phosphorous may be given to pigs that suffer from a nutritional deficit, but pigs that cannot walk or are in obvious pain should be slaughtered.


©Glenneis Kriel
Arthritis may be caused by infectious conditions, pigs being overweight and pigs that are growing too fast. Affected pigs may be limping, not wanting to get up or have one or more swollen limbs that are also warm to the touch.
Tips to prevent arthritis, includes practicing good hygiene, disinfecting the navel of young piglets after birth and controlling feed intake and breeding sturdy animals. Pigs for Profit advises farmers to talk to their veterinarians about treatment, since arthritis may respond well to antibiotics. Damage to the joints, however, may become so severe that the best way to deal with the problem would be to slaughter the pig.


©National Pork Board and the Pork Checkoff, Des Moines, IA, USA
Care should be taken to ensure the water does not contain any harmful substances or toxins.
Excess salt, certain plants, minerals, pesticides and herbicides may cause paralysis that is sometimes accompanied by diarrhoea and vomiting. Farmers should prevent this by keeping animals away from these poisonous substances, limiting salt intake and not feeding swill.


The MSD Veterinary Manual in its Overview of lameness identifies flooring type as a major determinant of lameness, with all types of floors having “lameness associated with them.” Dirt and pasture, for example, can be too dry or too wet, leading to foot problems and infections, whereas bedding could be a source of bacteria that causes infectious arthritis, such as Erysipelothrix rhusiopathia.
The state of the floor may also affect lameness if it is too slippery, wet or there are holes, gaps and sharp edges that may cause injuries.

By Glenneis Kriel