Whether you have pigs as pets or are breeding pigs to generate an income, seeing your pig struggle to walk is stressful.
I have a small piggery on my smallholding, and it went well until my newborn piglets developed splay leg syndrome. Before the big day, I had everything ready for the farrowing (birth) of the piglets, but the last thing I expected was to find them shuffling on the ground and struggling to get up. I had prepared the farrowing rooms and dried off the piglets when they were born. What could I possibly have overlooked?
Distressed, I called a local vet.
Why is my pig struggling to walk? Pigs struggle to walk from diseases and infections such as bush foot, arthritis, Teschen disease, osteochondrosis, torn ligaments, and tendons. Splay leg syndrome and dippity pig syndrome are also common causes. Unique accompanying symptoms can help to identify which disease is causing walking struggles.
Once you successfully identify the cause, you can administer the correct treatment and avoid irreversible damage.
I was busy cleaning the pigsty when I noticed one of my pigs walking on their knees. When I tried to get close, my pig squealed and struggled to get back onto its feet. I noticed it had a swollen claw, which was hot to the touch.
The signs accompanying pig lameness will help you identify the root cause.
7 Reasons Pigs Struggle to Walk
The vet asked if the piglets had been farrowed in a room with a hard floor that may have been slippery. I had overlooked this and did not realize how a slippery floor would affect my piglets.
The vet also advised that healthy piglets should be suckling, grunting, and walking around without difficulty. It’s essential to take note of the symptoms and the potential cause of your pig struggling to walk.
- Walking on the knees
- Hind legs look paralyzed
- The pig is sitting in a dog-sitting position with the front legs standing and the back legs sitting.
- Your pig is showing signs of pain
Let’s take a closer look at five of the reasons why pigs struggle to walk:
Septic Laminitis: aka Bush Foot or Foot Rot
Septic laminitis is a disease that affects the tissues that connect the pig’s bone to the hoof. This disease causes severe inflammation and is painful. Septic laminitis is also known as bush foot or foot rot.
Bush Foot (Foot Rot) occurs when the skin of a pig’s foot is cut and infection enters. The foot becomes swollen and hot to the touch. It causes inflammation and redness in the hoof area. Pigs with Bush Foot often experience a reluctance to walk or become lame because of the pain. In other animals, Bush Foot is referred to as Foot Rot and can be caused by wet conditions.
Bacteria enter the pig’s body through cracks or lesions in their hoof; the bacteria then develops into an infection.
Sows are more likely to develop bush foot. If left untreated, it can result in the growth of an abscess above the hoof, which brings your pig to its knees.
Signs of Bush Foot
Signs of Bush Foot include a reluctance to stand, lameness in their hind legs, or walking on their tip-toes (known as paddling or goose-stepping) or knees. A warm, swollen claw clearly indicates that the pig has contracted septic laminitis.
If the infection has spread, an abscess will form. The pressure above the hoof will cause the skin to die (necrosis will set in), and the abscess will burst. The resulting pressure from the abscess can cause the pig to go lame and walk on its knees.
- Pigs are hesitant to stand
- Hind legs appear lame
- Walking on the tip-toes or knees
- A warm, swollen claw
- An abscess (in some cases)
Causes of Bush Foot
Bush foot is caused by a cut, puncture wound, or cracked skin around the pig’s hoof area that gets infected. Rough floors, poor quality concrete with rough surfaces, and old stalls with sharp edges can contribute to bush foot. Pigs with a biotin deficiency are at a greater risk of bush foot.
Bush foot is caused by a claw infection that has become inflamed and swollen around the coronary band (just above the hoof) and in the toes. Generally, the infection enters through a cut or piercing in the pig’s foot and spreads through the hoof and claw.
Adding straw bedding can help to prevent bush foot in sows. Make sure pigs are getting enough biotin in their diets. Wash and disinfect concrete surfaces and check for broken boards, rough areas, or nails sticking out in the stalls. Keeping a safe and clean area will help to keep your sow from developing bush foot.
Treating Bush Foot
Treat Bush Foot by administering oral antibiotics as soon as possible to prevent an abscess from forming (if one hasn’t already). If the abscess has already developed, an urgent debridement will need to be done to drain the pus.
Anti-inflammatory injections will help reduce the swelling and help with the pain. These injections will help heal the pig from the inside.
Footbaths (containing 1% formalin) will also treat the infection. Your pig must be walked through the bath once a week until the infection has cleared. Unfortunately, if antibiotic treatment is unsuccessful, the pig’s leg will need to be amputated to prevent death from septicemia.
Arthritis: Joint Inflammation
Pig arthritis is caused by a bacterial infection, trauma, or lesions that developers into inflammation in the joints of the pig’s legs. It causes pigs to walk on their knees. Suckling piglets and sows are more likely to develop arthritis due to a bacterial infection resulting from trauma or lesions. Mycoplasma arthritis and Erysipelas arthritis is rarer in piglets, but can be found in growers after 10 weeks as the maternal antibodies dissipate.
The bacteria attacks the joints and causes severe inflammation. Arthritis is a degenerative disease that can be fatal over time.
Signs of Arthritis
Arthritis is usually identified in pigs standing still with their heads hanging down, back arched, and difficulty walking. The pig may start walking on their knees or refuse to get up. Lameness is usually the only clinical sign of arthritis. It can cause sudden death in piglets, as well as a stiffness or hesitancy to lie on it’s belly.
There will be noticeable swelling in the joint areas, and the pig will show signs of stiffness and perhaps even go lame in the affected limb.
Causes of Arthritis
Pigs are more susceptible to arthritis when they are stressed and their immune response is depressed. Moving pigs, crowding, unsanitary conditions, cold, damp, and poorly ventilated areas can all contribute to arthritis. Changing their feed rations or exposure to viruses can also cause arthritis. Because several types of bacterias cause pig arthritis, antibiotics are usually used to treat arthritis.
Administer antibiotics to treat the infection, and anti-inflammatories will help bring down the swelling of the joints. If the bacteria enter the bloodstream, septicemia will set in before arthritis develops. Septicemia can result in death.
If the pig is obese, feed them a good low-calorie diet to ensure a healthy weight. Frequently vaccinating your pigs will help prevent arthritis. Ensure that the floors are clean so there is no risk of your pig slipping, scraping their joints, and developing lesions.
When I went over to feed my pigs, I realized that one of my sows was missing. I found the sow standing by the water trough, swaying unsteadily. I saw her hobble away and drag a back leg as I approached.
My poor pig was suffering from Teschen disease.
Teschen disease is an infection (PTV-1) that attacks the motor nerves of pigs and causes muscle paralysis and eventually complete hind leg paralysis. The pig will still be able to feel sensations such as pin-pricks and hot or cold temperatures. It is caused by strains of porcine teschovirus serotype 1 (PVT-1).
Weaned and young pigs most often show signs of Teschen disease. This virus multiplies in the intestines and leaves the body through the feces. Teschen disease is hardy, and you will need to keep the floor area sanitized to avoid spreading the disease to the rest of the herd. Isolating the infected pigs is a must.
Signs of Teschen Disease
When your pigs contract Teschen disease, they may lose their appetite and start dragging their hind legs when walking. The pig may also seem depressed and unenthusiastic to move around. Your pig may be unsteady on its feet and prefer to be in a dog-sitting position.
Treating Teschen Disease
It’s best to administer preventative vaccinations against Teschen disease to prevent your pig or herd from becoming infected. A vet will also administer antibiotics to fight the infection.
Unfortunately, there is no effective treatment, so preventative measures are necessary (like keeping the sty hygienic and providing freshwater). Teschen disease can destroy the motor nerves of the pig, resulting in irreversible damage.
While bathing my pig with the hose, I noticed that the hip joint had become inflamed. My pig also kept one foot lifted off the ground. Skeletal diseases like osteochondrosis can suddenly cause a back leg to stop working correctly.
It’s stressful to see your pig hobbling around and dog-sitting with their hind legs outstretched before them. Osteochondrosis is a skeletal disease that affects the pig’s cartilage. This condition leads to leg weakness and stiffness and is often a result of trauma. It affects about 10% of all finishing pigs and is more common in young breeding pigs.
Boars and gilts (female pigs under the age of 1) that experience leg lameness are often culled, as the disease is progressive and causes irreversible damage.
Signs of Osteochondrosis Syndrome
Symptoms of Osteochondrosis include issues walking, possible lameness, walking in a swaying motion, or trying to walk on three legs with the infected leg raised. Joints become inflamed, such as the hip, knee, and elbow. Genetics are the main cause of Osteochondrosis.
Treating Osteochondrosis Syndrome
Move the pig to a pen with soft bedding, which will help the pig achieve a better grip when attempting to stand.
Make sure the floors are not slippery and are pressure-washed often to avoid infection if the pig should fall or suffer trauma that may expose the skin and allow bacteria to penetrate.
Dippity Pig Syndrome
It was by far the most terrifying thing I had seen: my pig was fine one minute, and the next minute was squealing as sores started appearing all along the side of the belly. Dragging back legs can be either a sign of paralysis, or a case of dippity pig syndrome. The diseased skin of this condition can cause temporary lameness in pigs.
It’s heartbreaking to suddenly hear your pig squealing from pain, being unable to walk while dragging their back legs behind them. Dippity pig syndrome (also known as bleeding back syndrome) is an awful skin condition that young pigs develop along their backs and hind quarters.
Pigs with Dippity Pig Syndrome usually squeal frantically and have a difficulty walking without falling down. They struggle with their rear end working and often arch the back. Evidence suggests that this syndrome may be hereditary in pigs. Factors like sunburn, stress, and even loud claps of thunder can bring this condition on.
Signs of Dippity Pig Syndrome
Dippity pig symptoms will appear suddenly, usually with weeping sores on their sides or back. These blisters can form in a matter of minutes. The pig will be unsteady on their feet, with legs that move like rubber, and the pig will ‘dip’ down onto the ground. Your pig may scream out in pain and drag their back legs.
Treating Dippity Pig Syndrome
The best thing you can do for your pigs is reduce their stress. Playing soft music will help them relax. Ensure they are always well hydrated. Keep your pig comfortable. Hydrocortisone creams prescribed by your vet will also help alleviate the pain when applied twice daily (or according to your vet’s instructions).
Luckily this syndrome only lasts a couple of days (two to four days max) and should resolve without too much intervention. Even so, it’s still a painful and traumatic experience for your pig.
Torn Ligaments or Tendons
Usually, when I call my pigs for supper, they come rushing over. My one pig just lay on the ground, shivering and refusing to move. A pig doesn’t say no to a meal, so I was instantly alerted to there being something wrong. I feared a torn ligament, though I knew that Porcine congenital splay leg syndrome was also a likely culprit.
Torn ligaments or tendons are common traumas that occur in pigs, and these traumas affect sows and gilts more often. Factors that cause torn ligaments are fighting, weak bones, slipping on wet floors, and splay leg syndrome.
This condition occurs when the muscle or tendon is torn away from the bone and affects pigs’ elbows, knee joints, and hips.
Signs of Torn Ligaments or Tendons
Pigs that cannot stand, appear lame, refuse to move, shiver uncontrollably, have lousy coordination, and favor sitting in a dog position may have torn a ligament or tendon.
Treating Torn Ligaments or Tendons
Moving your pig to a grassy area will help them grip the ground better and avoid any more damage to the torn ligament. Give anti-inflammatories to your pig to assist with the healing process, and they should recover soon.
Porcine Congenital Splay Leg Syndrome (PCS)
Porcine congenital splay leg syndrome is a common disease that affects piglets and causes the most deaths. Splaying of the legs often happens due to the piglets being born on a slippery surface. The slick surface causes the legs to splay outward when the piglet attempts to stand.
Piglets may end up starving due to PCS as their suckling will be compromised, and they may suffocate as they will be unable to move when the sow rolls over.
Signs of PCS
If you notice your piglet’s legs spread sideways and they are crawling or shuffling, then your pig may have PCS.
If the piglet experiences front leg splay, euthanasia is the most humane option, as the damage is irreversible. Hind leg splay (if caught in time) can be treated successfully. Encourage the piglet to suckle as soon as possible. Colostrum will encourage healing.
Remove the piglet from the sow and place them under a heat lamp for 24 to 48 hours; this will prevent death by overlaying (when the sow rolls over her piglet accidentally). Tying the back legs loosely together with vicryl (on Amazon) will help rectify the splay leg syndrome. Massage the piglet’s legs vigorously for about 5 minutes every few hours to encourage blood flow.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can a pig have a stroke?
Pigs don’t have strokes. However, they do commonly suffer from seizures. Pigs can have as many as one or two seizures a day. The number differs from one pig to another, but most pigs don’t require medication for seizures.
Is pig paralysis contagious?
Teschen disease in pigs causes paralysis. This infection can spread to other pigs in the herd through the infected pig’s feces. To avoid the spread of the disease and resulting paralysis, keep the sty clean and make sure to sanitize your boots and equipment regularly.
Place a sanitizing bath at each of the pig sties to clean your boots before entering.
How do I know if my pig is in pain?
A clear indication that your pig is in pain is if they suddenly squeal or scream. They may also limp or lie down for extended periods. A pig in pain may also present with aggressive behavior and shallow breathing.
Pigs are lovely animals to keep as pets or farm with, but you need to observe them closely, especially when they struggle to walk. Sometimes they will alert you by screaming or squealing, and others may simply lie on the ground and refuse to move.
Monitoring your pigs daily will make it easier for you to spot the signs that your pig struggles to walk. Early detection of infections and diseases will prevent irreversible damage.
Why Raise Peafowl? Peafowls are rewarding and fascinating birds to keep! Here are just five reasons why you should consider raising peafowl! Why You Need Peafowl On Your Farm: 10 Benefits of...
My family and I recently adopted a Rex rabbit named Ponyo. He free-roams in our house, which worked out wonderfully until we introduced him to our new Labrador, Wally. A week later, Ponyo started...