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What causes coughing in pigs?

12-Nov-2008 (6 years 4 months 18 days ago)
It is logical to assume that any factor that irritates or inflames the respiratory system will elicit the physiological response of either sneezing or coughing or both. However, not all diseases of the airways produce such expected clinical signs. In pigs, chronic bronchopneumonia is more commonly seen as a failure to thrive rather than as outbreaks of coughing and laboured respiration. Coughing is therefore generally an indication that whatever insult is causing it is in its early stages.

Unless individual pigs are identified as they are first seen to cough, the observational impression is that a certain percentage of a population of affected pigs is always coughing. This portion will not necessarily be the same pigs at each observation because, as time passes, some pigs recover as others become affected. The pattern of coughing can therefore provide useful information in making a diagnosis.

A sudden and widespread outbreak of coughing indicates a either an environmental insult or a highly contagious and infectious pathogen has suddenly presented itself. On the other hand, constant coughing in clusters of pigs might indicate a more longstanding problem.
Coughing is an important defensive reflex reaction designed to expel inflammatory secretions and foreign material from the respiratory tract. If the mechanism of coughing is suppressed for any reason, the system is not cleared of infection and the situation becomes chronic. Although alarming and indicative of disease, coughing is at least a sign that normal physiological responses are taking place and should not in isolation be necessarily seen as a bad thing.

Table 1 shows the infectious pathogenic agents that are normally associated with coughing or laboured breathing in pigs. The most commonly occurring and most important are shown in bold type.

Table 1. Pathogens that cause coughing and/or dyspnoea in pigs.



M. hyorhinis
M. hyopneumoniae

Swine Influenza

Respiratory coronavirus
Porcine cytomegalovirus
Aujeszky's Disease
Classical swine fever
African swine fever

In addition to pathogenic agents, it must be appreciated that there are other factors that will from time to time cause pigs to cough (Table 2).

Table 2. Other causes of coughing and/or dyspnoea in pigs.

Other patologies
Cardiac insufficiency
Porcine stress syndrome
Diaphragmatic hernia
Heat stress
Manure gases
Nitrate poisoning
Bacterial endotoxins
Fungal spores


Infection with the roundworm, Ascaris suum, is often associated with coughing because it causes an eosinophillic inflammation of the lung as the third larval stage of the life-cycle migrates through the lung tissue. The larval migration can also act as a trigger factor for otherwise dormant bacterial infection.

Anaemic pigs may show laboured breathing as they struggle to compensate for lack of oxygen arising from the reduction in circulating red blood cells and therefore haemoglobin. They will be more prone to the inhalation of foreign material which, in turn can cause coughing. If cardiac insufficiency arises, respiratory secretions are less easily cleared from the lung and a “heart cough” can develop. However, this is more likely to be associated with occasional individual pigs.

Environmental causes of coughing are relatively common. I personally know of a number of farms where coughing occurs in finishing pigs but there is very little visible pathology to be seen on the slaughter line. In these situations, gross irritation of the airways, together with suppression of the microscopic lung defense mechanisms, will lead to coughing. The most common causes of this combined effect are hot conditions and dust. Other airborne contaminants associated with dust, such as bacterial endotoxin and fungal spores, make matters worse. The approach to solving the problem of coughing pigs must therefore always be multifactorial.

What the experts say

Controlling the environment of the pig18-Nov-2008 6 years 4 months 12 days ago

Article Comments

This area is not intended to be a place to consult authors about their articles, but rather a place for open discussion among users.

Yvette Fieldwick16-Dec-2011(3 years 3 months 14 days ago)

My gilt has a chesty flemmy cough. Without having to pay a £70 call out fee from my vet. Is there any medication that you can recommend.

Sam Bora02-Jan-2013(2 years 2 months 28 days ago)

i like this website because i study vet in university

jesslyn brooks10-Feb-2015(1 months 20 days ago)

My pig has a dry cough on and off what medication can you recommend

New York Healthcare Lawyer19-Feb-2015(1 months 11 days ago)

i want to say that this post has great content...

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