Periparturient behavior and physiology: further insight into the farrowing process for primiparous and multiparous sows

SH Ison, S Jarvis, SA Hall, CJ Ashworth, KMD Rutherford

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25 Citations (Scopus)
40 Downloads (Pure)


Giving birth is a critical time for many species and is often the most painful event ever experienced by females. In domestic species, like the pig, pain associated with parturition represents a potential welfare concern, and the consequences of pain can cause economic losses (e.g. by indirectly contributing to piglet mortality as pain could slow post-farrowing recovery, reduce food and water intake, reducing milk let-down). This study investigated pain assessment and its management in primiparous (gilts) and multiparous (sows) breeding pigs, including the provision of a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) post-parturition. Individuals were randomly allocated to receive the NSAID ketoprofen (3mg/kg bodyweight) (n = 11 gilts, 16 sows) or the equivalent volume of saline (n = 13 gilts, 16 sows) by intramuscular injection 1.5 hours after the birth of the last piglet. Data collected included putative behavioral indicators of pain (back leg forward, tremble, back arch), salivary cortisol concentrations pre-farrowing and up to 7 days post-injection. In addition, post-partum biomarkers of inflammation, including the acute phase protein C-reactive protein (CRP) and 3 porcine cytokines (interleukin-1 β (IL1 β), interleukin-6 (IL6) and tumor necrosis factor α (TNF α)) were measured in plasma collected 6 hours following the injection. Behaviors were analyzed using generalized linear mixed models, and physiological variables with linear mixed models. No difference in putative pain behaviors, salivary cortisol, CRP or cytokines were found between individuals treated with ketoprofen or those administered the saline control. However, there were some differences between gilts and sows, as sows exhibited more putative pain behavior than gilts, had higher salivary cortisol on the day of farrowing and had higher plasma TNF α. Conversely, gilts had higher salivary cortisol than sows on day 3 post farrowing and had higher CRP. This indicates that, like human females, multiparous sows experience more pain from uterine activity following birth than primiparas. This study provides useful information for developing management practices relating to post-farrowing care for breeding pigs.
Original languageEnglish
Article number122
Number of pages15
JournalFrontiers in Veterinary Science
Issue number122
Early online date12 Jun 2018
Publication statusFirst published - 12 Jun 2018

Bibliographical note



  • Behaviour
  • Pain assessment
  • Parturition stress
  • Physiology
  • Sow
  • Welfare


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