Uterine Health Impacts Piglet Survival And Sow Fertility – for Aug. 26, 2010

Bernie Peet is president of Pork Chain Consulting Ltd. of Lacombe, Alberta, and editor of Wes tern Hog Journal. His columns will run every second week in the Manitoba Co-operator.

In most herds, uterine infections are relatively rare, but a routine check for possible problems immediately after farrowing is still essential. In some herds, infections are more common and may lead to compromised sow health, which can impact piglet survival. Also, infections tend to persist, sometimes even after treatment, leading to reduced fertility after the sow is weaned and mated. Careful observation during and after farrowing, combined with effective treatment of affected sows, will ensure problems are minimized.

Although small amounts of afterbirth may be expelled during the farrowing process, the main body of the placenta is normally expelled one to three hours after the last piglet is born. The appearance of the tissues should be fresh, with no decomposition or significant smell. After farrowing it is normal to see some discharge from the vulva. In most sows, this will be clear or a little milky, but should not be copious. Some sows may have a persistent heavy discharge, although this may not necessarily indicate a problem.

Sows should be checked frequently after farrowing until the afterbirth is expelled. If it is retained for longer than normal it may show some signs of decomposition, including a darker colour compared to normal and some smell. A heavy white, yellow or bloody discharge which increases in severity indicates a uterine infection.

If either of these two signs are seen, the sow’s temperature should be checked. The normal body temperature is 39 C, but this increases by up to 1 C during farrowing. A temperature of more than 40 C usually indicates either an infection of the uterus (endometritis) or possibly an udder infection (mastitis).


Uterine infections respond well to treatment with a broad-spectrum antibiotic, so this is usually the treatment of choice. If a sow is assisted during farrowing, the chances of getting an infection are increased, so routine treatment is advised. An alternative to antibiotic treatment, where the sow does not have an elevated temperature, is to flush the uterus and vagina with a saline solution. Endometritis may also be treated by giving prostaglandin by injection which helps the lining of the uterus to recover and reduces the likelihood of problems with a discharge at or post-service.

As with all potential disease situations, careful observation of the sow’s behaviour and appearance will assist in identifying a problem. After farrowing, the sow should be settled and contented, suckling normally and calling to her piglets to suckle by grunting quietly. She should be feeding and drinking normally and although she will not usually want to eat much feed, she should show some interest at feeding time. If she is not eating, drinking or suckling normally or if she looks “off colour” or is lethargic and reluctant to stand up, a problem may be indicated.

Uterine infections are often associated with udder infections, so a close eye should be kept on the appearance and feel of the udder just prior to farrowing and for the first 48 hours post-farrowing. To check for possible udder problems, each gland in the udder should be felt with the palm and fingers, squeezing firmly. The tissue should be firm but not hard. Signs of an abnormal udder include hardness, hotness to the touch and the sow responding as if she feels pain.

Edema, or fluid in the tissue, can be checked for by pushing a finger into the side of the gland and then releasing. If an imprint of the finger is left, this demonstrates edema. Redness or blotchy red and white tissue indicates the likelihood of mastitis. If there is any sign of infection the sow’s temperature should be checked and treatment given if it is higher than 40 C.


Occasionally, persistent uterine and vaginal infections result in a discharge, not only after farrowing, but also after weaning. In this case, the incidence of returns to service is likely to be increased and farrowing rate reduced. I have seen situations where farrowing rate has been as low as 70 per cent due to this problem. Discharges are more common in older sows because the cervix is less able to keep out infection and heavy culling of older females may be part of the control strategy.

Treatment will depend on the severity of the problem, but will usually involve some routine medication. One approach is to medicate the lactation feed, so that the infection is stopped before weaning. Another is to give a course of a broad-spectrum antibiotic or a long-acting antibiotic after weaning so that any infection carr ied through from the lactation stage is controlled. In severe cases, periods of feed medication for all sows in gestation may be considered.

As with all disease situations, a veterinarian should be consulted because every farm is different and there are a host of environmental and management factors that influence both uterine and udder health.

The sow’s health around the time of farrowing has a large impact on piglet survival because a raised temperature will reduce appetite and milk production. As uterine and udder infections are so closely related, careful observation of the sow and litter will allow rapid recognition and treatment of any problems. Similarly, after weaning, a prompt response to any signs of uterine or vaginal infection will minimize any impact on sow fertility.





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