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To be blamed or pitied? The effect of illness on social behavior, cytokine levels and feed intake in undocked boars
- Munsterhjelm, C., Nordgreen, J., Aae, F., Heinonen, M., Olstad, K., Aasmundstad, T., Janczak, A.M., Valros, A.
- Physiology & behavior 2017 v.179 pp. 298-307
- aggression, animal welfare, blood sampling, boars, clinical examination, computed tomography, farms, feed intake, health status, interleukin-12, osteochondrosis, respiratory tract diseases, risk factors, social behavior, tail biting, Norway
- Tail biting is detrimental to animal welfare and has negative consequences for producer economy. Poor health is one of the risk factors for tail biting. The first aim of this study was therefore to test for links between health status and behavior related to tail biting at the individual level. The second aim of this study was to test whether variation in cytokines was related to variation in social behavior. These small molecules produced upon immune activation are known to influence behavior both in the direction of withdrawal and increased aggression. This could potentially increase non-functional social behavior and thereby the risk of a tail biting outbreak. To investigate this, we collected behavioral data, health data, feeding data and blood samples from undocked boars at a test station farm in Norway. We compared groups with three different diagnoses: osteochondrosis diagnosed by computer tomography scanning (OCSAN), osteochondrosis diagnosed by clinical examination (OCCLIN) and respiratory tract disease (RESP), with healthy controls (CTR). We tested whether the diagnoses were associated with feeding and growth, social behavior and cytokine levels. We then tested whether there were correlations between cytokine levels and social behavior. We also provide raw data on cytokine levels in the extended sample (N=305) as there are few publications on cytokine levels measured in pigs living under commercial conditions. OCCLIN pigs visited the feeder less, and fed longer compared to CTR pigs. Pigs diagnosed with RESP showed a large drop in growth the first week after filming, which corresponds to the week they were likely to have been diagnosed with illness, and a tendency to compensatory increase in the week after that. Social behavior differed between experimental groups with OCSCAN pigs receiving more social behavior (both aggressive and non-aggressive) compared to CTR, and RESP pigs tending to perform more ear- and tail-biting than controls. There were no differences in absolute levels of cytokines between categories. However IL1-ra and IL-12 showed correlations with several behaviors that have been shown by others to be associated with current or future tail biting activity. To our knowledge, this is the first published study indicating a role for illness in non-functional social behavior in pigs and the first showing a correlation between cytokine levels and social behavior.