Managing compromised pigs – should veterinarians revisit their role?

Prof. Dr. Elisabeth große Beilage

University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover
Field Station for Epidemiology
Buescheler Str. 9
D-49456 Bakum


Prof. Elisabeth grosse Beilage, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ECPHM

is a veterinarian working at the University for Veterinary Medicine Hannover, Germany, since 1989; at first in the Clinic for Swine and Small Ruminants and later as a senior scientist at the Field Station for Epidemiology. Area of current research is focussed on animal welfare, clinical evaluation and epidemiology (risk factor analysis for inter- and intra-herd transmission) of infectious pig diseases and control/eradication of these infections. Other areas of expertise are pig herd health management, zoonosis control, vaccination and gross pathology.


Pig diseases and injuries occur in all housing systems. Intensive care or treatment does not always result in healing so that animals have to be euthanized or killed to avoid further pain or suffering. As the German Animal Protection Act fundamentally stipulates the protection of animal lives and well-being in seriously diseased or injured pigs, the decision which subject of protection needs to be preferred is inevitable. For pig farmers, the decision concerning killing an animal is considerably challenging and a study focussed on welfare-related findings in pig carcasses delivered to rendering plants revealed deficiencies in more than 10 % of the fattening and breeding pigs. The deficiencies are related to the time-point when diseased or injured pigs have been killed (often much too late or not killed at all) or to the way the emergency killing was performed. Criteria allowing the accurate assessment of the well-being of diseased or injured pigs are needed to make a responsible, justified decision regarding the time point of killing. The criteria should define the earliest possible time-point in the course of an illness at which an impairment of the well-being protecting life is no longer acceptable and emergency killing is inevitable. The role of the herd attending veterinarians in the management, treatment and emergency killing of seriously diseased or injured pigs might need a critical re-evaluation.