Killing underweighted low viable newborn piglets : Which health parameters are appropriate to make a decision?
The aim of this study was to estimate the mortality risk and associated factors within the first days of life for underweight or low-vital neonatal piglets. This risk estimation should start a discussion concerning the preconditions for timely killing of compromised newborn piglets to prevent unnecessary pain and suffering. In an observational study, various clinical and laboratory variables were examined in 529 piglets out of four farms. Body weight, crown-rump-length, rectal temperature, a 4-stage vitality score, an intrauterine-growth-retardation score, glucose, lactate, haemoglobin and immunocrit were assessed on the first day of life. Vitality was scored by three factors: movement, abdominal palpation, and colour of the skin. Afterwards the death of the piglets (by killing or spontaneously) was monitored until day 5 of age.
Body weight, rectal temperature and vitality score were significantly associated with probability of death. Piglets with rectal temperatures ≤ 37.5 °C, a body weight < 0.86 kg and impaired vitality scores were found to have the highest probability of death until day 5 of age.
The clinical findings, identified by this model, allow a first estimation of mortality risk for newborn piglets within the first days of life. In a further step veterinarians, farmers and ethicians now need to clarify what probability of death should justifiy the killing of a newborn piglet.