Cannibalism in the pig stall

Many names for a topic that is always current: Cannibalism is a problem that every pig farmer has had to deal with at some time during his/her career.
No matter whether it is due to feeding, weather conditions or hygiene, the causes and (also preventive) solutions must be found for the respective situation.

Necroses and cannibalism/caudophagia

Tail, ear and flank bites are not pleasant for either animal or farmer. In addition to the psychological strain on the farmer, there is often also considerable economic damage. Affected animals are restricted in terms of their general condition, they withdraw, and they eat less, which can result in reduced biological performance in the area of gains and feed conversion. If the wound becomes infected, the amount of care required increases, veterinary costs increase, a larger quantity of meat is rejected at the slaughter line due to increased infections with abscess formation – in the case of serious injuries, sometimes only elimination is left as a last resort.

Types and origin

Often tail or ear biting begins when other pigs playfully taking the attractively moving body parts into their mouths. If slight injuries occur or if the tissue is damaged by necrosis, the affected animal initially finds it pleasant to be chewed on by other animals in the pen. Escaping wound secretion or blood additionally stimulate this.

Another type is caused by stressed pigs, which give vent to their displeasure through targeted biting attacks. This stress reduction leads to a behavioural disorder.
Both types of biting can then escalate within a few hours.

Background and causes

It is not possible to identify a clear cause for the problem. Most of the time, various influencing factors combined cause the barrel literally to overflow, which is why an extensive weak-point analysis is often necessary on affected farms in order to identify as many causes of cannibalism among pigs as possible and eliminate them in the next step.
Often tissue damage or necroses precede a biting occurrence event, whereby metabolic disorders and a strain on the immune system play a central role. In this process, cell wall components are released from gram-negative bacteria such as E. coli or Salmonella, so-called lipopolysaccharides or endotoxins.

If the intestinal wall is damaged by other influences (e.g. stress, heat/cold, mycotoxins, inappropriate rations, lack of water, etc.), these endotoxins can enter the blood and cause inflammatory reactions throughout the body, which ultimately lead to the fine capillary vessels of peripheral parts of the body such as ears, tail and claws being less well supplied with blood or even becoming blocked, which ultimately leads to the death of the surrounding tissue (= necrosis).
Another source of endotoxin is biofilm in water pipes and contaminated feed.

Factors influencing necrosis and cannibalism


Since the causes are so diverse and the severity of the problem varies greatly from farm to farm, each farm must react individually and eliminate risk factors. In general, of course, good professional practice with a husbandry optimised to each animal applies.

Particular attention should be paid to the following points:

  • Stress reduction (adapted occupancy density, stall structuring, little regrouping, quiet handling),
  • Activity (organic material that can be changed, chewed, burrowed, eaten, explored together and remains attractive for a long time due to frequent changes),
  • Water (high biological and chemical quality, adapted flow rates and sufficient drinking water),
  • Stable climate (concentration of harmful gases, temperature curve, sufficient fresh air, no draught),
  • Crude fibre content and the proportion of bacterially fermentable substance in the ration,
  • Ration (adapted close to needs, no blatant change of components),
  • general animal health (close cooperation with herd veterinarian)

In case of emergency

Unfortunately, even with the greatest care, an occasional occurrence cannot be completely prevented. To prevent escalation, good animal observation is of crucial importance.

It is important to react quickly to the following warning signals:

  • increased nervousness and intensive manipulation of the environment, stall neighbours, the animal owner,
  • “sucking” on tails, taking a tail in the mouth, initial chewing
  • bare, hairless tails,
  • strongly wagging, flapping tails,
  • sagging, tucked tails,
  • bite marks, initial bleeding injuries.

Provide effective distraction

  • green (hay, alfafa) or at least organic activity material (jute bags, sisal rope, cotton rope, wood)
  • toxin binding (burrowing soil/piglet peat ab libitum, MycoBond ad libitum or mixed into a ration)
  • licking stones/licking compounds
  • various commercially available plastic toys

It is important to change them frequently to keep the distraction objects and materials attractive. Furthermore, affected animals (and/or biters, if identifiable) should be separated to prevent further biting. In case of injuries, the wounds should be treated in consultation with the veterinarian to prevent or control infections. The local treatment of the wound as well as systemically applied antibiotics and painkillers/inflammation inhibitors play a role here.

Help from ActivePro!

Should you need assistance, contact our employees!

ActivePro products for support:

  • Special feed supplement ProtecTailTriotin® for the reduction of necroses and cannibalism
  • Mineral feed with Protectin complex: Herbs, spices and plant extracts support the body’s natural defences
  • Feed acidTriplexS” inhibits pathogenic germs by lowering the pH value
  • Crude fibre concentrateSuperCell” for activity and satisfied animals with a lot of bacterially fermentable substance, can also be offered ad libitum in separate machines/dispensers
  • Mycotoxin binderMycoBond” (also possible ad libitum as an emergency measure)
  • Licking stones and licking compounds
  • ProteinMix” short-term in periods of stress (regroupingand illness): Animals then have an increased need for amino acids

Necrosis or necrobiosis is derived from ancient Greek and means the death of individual limbs and is also understood to refer to the death of individual cells.

When the intestinal wall is damaged by various influences (e.g. stress, heat/cold, mycotoxins, inappropriate rations, lack of water, etc.) endotoxins can enter the blood and cause inflammatory reactions throughout the body, which ultimately lead to the fine capillary vessels of peripheral parts of the body such as ears, tail and claws being poorly supplied with blood or even becoming blocked, which ultimately leads to the death of the surrounding tissue.

Caudophagia is the technical term for tail-biting – mainly in pigs. The word is composed of the Latin “cauda” – “tail(end)” and the ancient Greek “phagein” – “to eat”. It describes a destructive behaviour in pigs where injuries to the tail or ears are caused by chewing by other pigs.

Protectin® is a combination of natural substances. Protectin® helps to keep your high-performance stock healthy through its protective effects. This allows you to tap new power reserves.

  • healthier animals through a better vitamin effect with the “immune protection factor”
  • higher growth through an optimised transport of nutrients with the “vascular protection factor” and thus higher gains
  • better economy due to higher meat preparation with the “enzyme protection factor”
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