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Joint ill in piglets
Mark White BVSc DPM MRCVS
The condition commonly referred to as “joint ill” is more correctly referred to as an arthritis affecting one or more joints, usually in young pigs. It is a condition seen in the young of most species and results from infection gaining entry to the blood stream at or soon after birth, circulating around the body and then settling out in the joints or occasionally in other parts of the body, particularly the brain causing meningitis.
NADIS reports identify occasional problems with joint ill, which occurs on farms either as a sporadic disease of individuals or an epizootic episode (particularly with strep suis type 14). The NADIS reports suggest it is something of a rarity outdoors.
The cause of joint ill is bacterial infection of the piglet. The majority of cases are caused by opportunist infection from the environment with, for example, E coli, Staphylococci and Streptococci. There are specific infectious agents that can produce epidemics of joint ill (and meningitis) such as Strep suis type 14.
There are a number of possible routes by which the bacteria can gain access to the blood stream and, hence, spread to the joints:-
1. Through the navel
2. Through badly clipped teeth
3. Through contamination of a docked tail stump
4. Through wounds or abrasions Fig 1.
5. Through the tonsil of the piglet (especially strep suis)
The first signs usually seen will be a piglet carrying a leg or reluctant to stand. Some may “dog sit” Fig 2. As the pigs’ ability to compete for a teat is compromised, loss of condition and starvation will occur. Crushing due to overlaying is a common sequel.
It is often the case that visible and palpable swelling of specific joints occurs later and, when evident, the hock and knee are most commonly affected.
Without treatment the infection will persist and, in severe cases, the abcessation resulting will burst out from the joint.
Cases of arthritis can be seen post weaning, either as a delayed manifestation of earlier infection or resulting from inadequate treatment of an earlier case.
Early individual antimicrobial treatment is essential if a recovery is to be made. The medication used should be tailored to the needs of the farm and laboratory testing of the cause(s) may help. In general, penicillin, ampicillin or lincomycin are likely to be effective. Use of pain killers (e.g. ketoprofen) may also be indicated as this condition can be very painful.
Treatment should be continued for at least 3 and preferably 5 days.
Failure to respond and evidence of burst abscesses from joints
should lead to euthanasia.
In rare cases an early problem with joint ill can contaminate the end of the bone and affect the growth plates with the result that later in life (e.g. at 3 months) spontaneous fractures occur. Fig3.
The key to controlling joint ill is firstly to improve hygiene in the farrowing area and secondly to identify and rectify the route of entry of infection.
1. Teeth Clipping: Teeth must be clipped singly with clean sharp clippers or ground off to avoid shattering of the teeth. Some producers stop teeth clipping in the face of joint ill problems but it must be remembered that the fighting damage that results can itself lead to joint ill! Teeth clipping itself does not cause joint ill; bad teeth clipping does.
2, Tail Docking: Always use separate instruments from those used to clip teeth. Ideally, use thermocautery. Tail stumps can be dipped or sprayed with iodine immediately after docking.
3. Navels: Navels should be dipped in iodine at birth.
4. Disinfectants: Use of dry disinfectants in the farrowing pens can help but are not a substitute for a failure to wash and disinfect or to keep the pen clear of sow faeces. Do not allow sows to spend more than 5 days in the farrowing crate before farrowing.
5. White-washing: White-washing of farrowing pens with hydrated lime following routine cleaning will dramatically improve the standard of disinfection particularly on old worn out floors and wooden partitions. A thick emulsion must be applied but it is vital that pens are left unoccupied for 4 days after treatment to allow the lime to ‘cure’. Failure to do this will lead to scalding of the sow or even the piglets if exposed immediately.
6. Antibiotics: Where tonsillar penetration is suspected, and in particular with Strep suis 14 infection, prevention can be achieved by:-
a) Routine treatment of piglets at birth with long acting penicillin or amoxycillin.
b) Treatment of the sows in the farrowing area with appropriate antibiotics, either by inclusion in the feed or by top dressing onto the feed – where this limited technique is still permitted.
Consult your veterinary surgeon who will design the most appropriate control programme.