Pigs: Lameness (PB1148)


This booklet describes the main aspects of lameness and outlines some of the common-sense management measures that will help prevent or treat it. If the advice is followed it should help ensure better welfare standards for the animals through a reduction in the level of lameness and at the same time help maintain or improve their efficiency of production.

Whilst the booklet embodies much of the latest scientific advice and the best current husbandry practices, it cannot be exhaustive and is not intended as a substitute for expert advice. If in doubt about a problem a veterinary surgeon or a technical or husbandry expert should always be consulted. Please remember that without good stockmanship animal welfare can never be adequately protected.


The extent of lameness in pigs and the cost to the industry as a whole has not been fully assessed but is considerable. The consequences of lameness can be seen in all stages of production and its prevention not only benefits the pigs but can result in economic benefits to the pig producer.

In 2002 the Scottish Agriculture College carried out a survey to assess the extent of footrot in Scottish flocks. The survey showed that more than 90% of sheep flocks had experienced cases of footrot in the previous year.

Lameness is a major challenge for sheep farmers, both to sheep productivity and sheep welfare. It should be remembered that lameness may be the first sign of foot-and-mouth disease in a flock. Early and accurate diagnosis of the cause of lameness ensures the correct treatment and preventative measures and will prevent unnecessary suffering.

A written health and welfare plan, which covers the yearly production cycle, should be prepared for each flock. This should be developed with appropriate veterinary and technical advice and reviewed and updated annually. The plan should assess vaccination policy, control of internal and external parasites and foot care as a minimum. Pasture management should form an integral part of disease control, especially in the case of internal parasites and footrot. Identification of high-risk periods for disease will encourage quick implementation of control strategies. All personnel attending to the flock should be acquainted with the contents of the flock health and welfare plan in addition to the current Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Sheep.


Types of Pig Lameness

There are four main causes:

  • Genetic causes
  • Congenital causes
  • Physical injury
  • Infection

In all types of pigs, problems can occur as a result of inherent leg weakness, physical injury or infections.

Genetic causes:
Leg weakness due to genetic causes is not common in the UK, though there is some evidence that selection for faster growth has increased the problem. It is thought that growth and development of the bone does not keep up with muscle deposition, resulting in an increased susceptibility to injury. Defects in conformation, e.g. straight legs, uneven claws, may also lead to lameness.

Congenital causes:
The major congenital cause of lameness is splayleg in sucking piglets. This condition is complex and not fully understood. Thus it has proved difficult to incorporate its eradication into breeding programmes. It appears that occurrence of splay legs increases with litter size and that males are twice as likely to be affected as females. Breed can be an important factor with piglets from Landrace and Pietrain sows in particular having a higher incidence than Large White.

Physical injury:
Inappropriate or poorly maintained floors are the most common causes of physical injury. The effects are either wounds directly to the foot or damage to the joints, ligaments or muscles caused by pigs slipping on the floor surface. Fractures are not always obvious.

Fighting and sexual behaviour (mounting) within a group of pigs can lead to an increase in the incidence of injuries in general, including those leading to lameness, particularly if the floor is in poor condition.

Diseases such as joint ill in piglets and infectious arthritis lead to lameness. Infections also occur due to bacteria entering a wound after physical injury resulting in swollen joints and abscesses. Mycoplasmal arthritis is common in young breeding stock.

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