Producer question: What are the consequences of inadequate water consumption?

Amass’ response: A baby pig is about 82 percent water and a market hog is about 53 percent water. Pigs needwater to regulate body temperature, move nutrients throughout the body, eliminate waste, lubricate joints, and bathe the brain and spinal cord.

Pigs lose water through breathing, evaporation, urination and defecation. Water loss increases as temperature rises and humidity drops. Water excretion increases with high-protein or high-salt diets. Pigs must drink enough water to compensate for normal water loss. Generally, a pig will drink a gallon of water per day for every 100 pounds of bodyweight. However, a pig will spend only about 20 minutes a day drinking. Therefore, adequate water flow rate cannot be stressed enough.

Manure is 60 percent to 80 percent water. The water content of diarrhea is even greater. Scouring pigs require more water to make up for excessive loss, but they are less likely to get up and drink. Water consumption can drop by as much as 15 percent in these pigs. Also, pigs with fevers need more water to help them regulate body temperature.

The first indication of insufficient water is a drop in feed consumption. Pigs consume two to three times as much water as feed. Reduced water intake can result from many factors.

  • Availability. Plugged waterers or low water pressure will limit intake. Immediately repair plugged nipples by cleaning the screen or orifice.
  • Accessibility. Pigs should not have to do gymnastics to reach the water source and should be able to drink at a comfortable angle.

    Tethered sows have shown to spend more time in recumbancy, which may result in low water intake. Lame pigs or pigs with neurological disease may not be able to get up to access water without assistance.
  • Palatability. High iron (>10 ppm) or chloride (>500 ppm) levels can temper water intake. Water quality monitoring should include checking total dissolved solids, nitrate/nitrite levels, iron, chloride, sulfates and coliforms. Concentrated water medications also can reduce palatability especially for nursery pigs.

    Reduced water intake can have mild to deadly consequences.
  • As previously stated, it can reduce feed consumption, weight gains, growth and hurt feed efficiency.
  • Reduced water consumption reduces urination frequency, which may predispose pigs to urinary tract infections. If severe, they can spread to the blood.
  • Water is needed to remove waste from the body. Pigs may become constipated with low water intakes.
  • Milk is 80 percent water. Lactating sows not drinking enough water will have low milk production and become dehydrated. Even mild drops in water intake can reduce feed consumption and affect lactation.
  • Water deprivation can prevent pigs from properly regulating their body temperatures.
  • Salt poisoning is the most severe consequence of water deprivation. Death loss due to salt poisoning can be as high as 50 percent even with treatment. If pigs are without water for a day, salt poisoning can occur. In some cases, clinical signs can occur if water is off for only a few hours.

Signs range from thirst, constipation and itchiness to blindness, deafness, convulsions and death. If water availability is immediately restored at normal or excess flow rates, clinical signs can become more severe. Water deprivation causes dehydration and cells inside the pig shrink. When water is restored, fluid moves back into these cells and they return to normal size. Cells in the pig’s brain are especially sensitive to hydration changes. When water is restored rapidly, the brain cells take up too much water and start to swell. This causes further brain damage; pigs may go into convulsions and die.

If you attempt to rehydrate these pigs, provide water gradually. Using a sprinkler system is one way to limit water intake initially in these pigs. Over time, you can restore water availability to normal levels.

Sandy Amass is a swine veterinarian at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.