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Quick guide to stomach ulcers

By Dr Andrew Tucker, Charles Street Veterinary 
Consultancy
Irritation of the stomach lining can result in thickening of this tissue layer. This can then progress to the formation of erosions and can go further to form ulcers on this inner surface of the stomach. These ulcers can result in bleeding into the stomach if the blood vessels are to rupture. Healing is possible at any stage and results in scar tissue formation if ulceration has occurred.
The disease can vary from very acute (mortality with no outward signs) to subclinical (mild irritation with no outward signs). Any age can be affected but sows around farrowing and fast growing pigs in the early grower phase are most commonly affected.
What causes stomach ulcers?
The cause of stomach ulcers is not known, although a number of different factors have been shown to play a role in the onset.
•    Infection – Combinations of certain bacteria have been shown to be able to cause stomach ulcers under certain conditions. Some bacteria are commonly found where there are stomach ulcers, although they are not thought to cause the problem and even some viruses are thought to make stomach ulcers more likely.
•    Toxicity – Copper toxicity may be a contributing factor.
•    Nutrition – The addition of certain vitamins, mineral and amino acids have been shown to decrease the incidence under certain circumstances.
•    Feed processing – Studies on the particle size of feeds and their fibre content have shown that finely ground pelleted feeds may predispose to stomach ulcers.
•    Stress – Stress on the animal has been shown to increase the incidence of stomach ulcers e.g. transport, housing problems, mixing, fighting, periods without feed/water, temperature extremes etc.
•    Periods without feed – 24 hours without feed can cause early changes to the stomach lining.
How do you know if it is on your farm?
Most signs of stomach ulcers in live pigs are linked to blood loss and pain. Affected pigs may have tarry blood in the faeces and are also often pale due to the lost blood. Rapid breathing may be seen in these anaemic cases. Signs of pain include decreased eating and drinking, tooth grinding and standing with a rigid back. The end result of subclinical cases is poor growth.
On post mortem, ulcers can be seen on the stomach lining and clotted blood is often found in the stomach.
How do you treat it?
Removing the causing factor (stress) is most important. Antibiotics can then help recovery as can temporarily (three weeks) increasing the particle size in the feed to 750µm and supplementing with high fibre products.
References:
Pig Diseases – D.J. Taylor; Diseases of Swine – Straw, Zimmerman, D’Allaire, Taylor

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