Occurrence of claw asymmetries in fattening pigs and potential impact on the development of sole ulcerations
Background: Claw abnormalities, particularly claw asymmetries, are associated with lameness in pigs and can be a welfare issue. However, the prevalence and development of claw asymmetries in pigs of different age is unknown.
Therefore, the aim of this study was to analyze the claw symmetry over the pig lifetime from birth to slaughter as well as the occurrence of sole ulcerations in fattening pigs possibly caused by such asymmetric claws.
Results: From third day of life until slaughtering, asymmetric growth of the claws was detected more frequently and more severely with increasing age as determined by three-step scoring. Sole ulcerations were detected in slaughtered pigs only with a prevalence of 64.2% (197/307 examined animals). The risk for a sole ulceration was 3.6-fold higher for pigs with strongly asymmetric claws (≥ 30% size difference of the claw footing area) compared to slightly asymmetric claws (≥ 5–15% size difference of the claw footing area) (odds ratio (OR) = 3.6). It was even higher for pigs showing intermediately asymmetric claws (≥ 15–30% size difference of the claw footing area) (OR = 2.7).
Conclusions: The study showed a significant increase in the prevalence of claw asymmetries over the pigs’ lifetime, which can lead to serious pathologic findings with increasing age such as sole ulcerations. Most likely, the unbalanced weight load on single claws in combination with hard flooring can result in claw damages. Moreover, a genetic component cannot be excluded because claw asymmetries were already detected in suckling piglets.