This affects newborns and piglets at pre-weaning the main causes are starvation, cold and infections with the most common effects being an empty stomach, cold, lethargic, convulsions leading to death.
The prime cause of this condition is insufficent intake of milk. This may be due to the failure of the sow to provide sufficient milk or failure of the piglet to suck. The presentation of the sow’s udder is important due to competition at the milk bar. Newborn piglets normally possess carbohydrate reserves in the form of hepatic (liver) glycogen (animal starch) stores (10-14 mg/100g) and blood glucose levels of 80-100 mg/100 ml (24 hours after birth).
Gluconeogenesis (the generation of glucose from protein) is not efficient until 7 days of age and glycogen reserves become depleted if the milk supply is inadequate, by feeding normally it provides adequate carbohydrate, but, if interrupted, blood glucose levels fall until clinical signs of deficiency appear at a blood-glucose concentration of 50 mg/100 ml. The original
glycogen stores may already be depleted by delay of farrowing. Piglets do not have brown fat so are unable to use fat to generate heat. Low environmental temperatures (below 34˚C for the single neonate or 25-30˚C for the piglet able to huddle) lead to increased utilisation of glycogen reserves in the liver and skeletal muscles and to the more rapid development of clinical signs. Low birth weight increases heat loss.
Piglets aged less than 7 days are affected and, at blood glucose levels of 50 mg/100 ml, may show uncertain gait, and later support themselves by placing their noses on the ground and straddling their hind limbs. More severely pigs rest on their abdomens but eventually fall on their sides and develop convulsions. These consist of ‘galloping’ of the forelegs, champing and frothing of the jaws in ‘air hunger’ and the heart rate will decrease (to 80 beats/min), a decline in temperature and shivering. Animals enter a coma and die. Death normally occurs 24-36 hours after the commencement of the signs.
Hypoglycemia should be suspected when the clinical signs of staggering, failure to rise, convulsions with galloping movements and gasping for air happen in very young piglets.
The presence of agalactia (failure of milk) in the sow, presence of a large litter and low environmental temperature all provide supportive evidence of Hypoglycaemia.
Treatment and prevention
Affected animals can be given intraperitoneal injections of 15 ml of 5% glucose solution every 4-6 hours, or oral glucose by stomach tube, and kept at a minimum of 30-35°C (85-95°F). If the sow is unable to feed them, an artificial sow milk replacer should be given by stomach tube initially or they should be fostered onto another sow. Reduction in draughts and the provision of dry bedding and additional heating will also improve their chances of survival.
Agalactia or mastitis in the sow should be treated promptly and support provided over the period of inadequate milk supply.