School of Natural and Environmental Sciences


Validation of lameness and pain biomarkers in pigs

Lameness is a serious animal welfare and economic problem in commercial pig farming which has been found to affect up to 20% of pigs, an estimated 230,000 animals annually in the UK. It is also likely that animals with degenerative joint conditions will experience pain prior to the onset of clinically detectable lameness. Ability to predict the onset of clinical lameness will not only enable early intervention to alleviate pain, but may also allow selection of non-affected animals for breeding, so reducing the genetic pre-disposition to lameness.

The research aims to identify molecular markers in the blood and joint tissue of pigs affected by degenerative joint disease which could in future be used to identify animals likely to develop the condition but before clinical signs appear. The relationships between the disease, specific biomarkers and subtle walking patterns recorded by detailed assessment of the animals’ gait will be identified and validated. This will provide a reliable method of detecting current, and predicting future instances of, degenerative joint disease. Once validated, pain and lameness biomarker data have the potential to be included within breeding selection objectives – both in the genetic programme for population improvement and in the on-going screening of animals sold to production herds – and would bring significant benefits to pig welfare.