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Leading expert on piglet health warns: The ghost from the past is back

Press release January 27, 2015

Contrary to what many believe, iron deficiency anaemia in piglets has not been wiped out with the implementation of supplemental iron during the piglets’ first days. Due to modern production methods, iron needs have resurfaced and, consequently, anaemia is now back in the pigpens where it poses a serious threat to both growth rates, animal welfare and profits.

Pig with vet

“Many go about in the mistaken belief that the risk of anaemia has been eliminated with the initial administration of 200 mg supplemental iron to the newborn piglets. But the increased productivity of modern swine production has caused increased iron needs”, warns leading experts on piglet health, Thomas G. Gillespie from Rensselaer Swine Services and a founding member of the International Iron Expert Board.

1 in 5 piglets suffer from anaemia

A shocking 1 in 5 piglets in a general commercial setting suffer from acute clinical iron deficiency-induced anaemia, defined as a hemoglobin concentration below 90 g Hb/L, recent prevalence studies show. Furthermore, up to 75 % of the piglets have an inadequate level of iron when using the threshold of 110 g Hb/L as the optimal value. 

“Sadly, many swine producers neglect to monitor for iron deficiency anaemia regularly – not out of ill will but because they are not aware of the threat anaemia in the early nursery poses to the productivity and welfare of their herds. They think that by injecting their piglets with 200 mg iron at day 1-3, they have eliminated the risk of anaemia. And, therefore, anaemia is often allowed to thrive and cause a lot of damage before it is detected,” says Thomas G. Gillespie and points out that the early nursery period is indeed the period of the piglets’ lives that will be most impacted with less than desired growth if there are limiting conditions present like anaemia. 

Threat to growth rates and profits

Next to feed and water, iron is the most important factor for growth in piglets, and iron deficiency doesn’t allow for outstanding growth. With limited iron stores at birth and low uptake from milk and feed, on average, a piglet requires approximately 53 mg iron per kilo growth.

Did you know?

A variation of 10 g Hb/L in hemoglobin levels at weaning is associated with an average   variation of 18 g/day in weight gain 3 weeks after weaning. This corresponds to an average 378 g. variation in weight gain[i].

According to Thomas G. Gillespie, it is imperative that pig farmers start taking anaemia much more seriously and focus on early detection and effective treatment. 

“Iron deficiency is a hidden condition that develops quickly and, therefore, it is often allowed to thrive and cause irreversible damage to a herd before it is detected. If left untreated, clinical anaemia will quickly turn into more severe health conditions and poorer growth since the body cannot respond well,” he says.

Permanent deficit in growth

Waiting until the piglet has developed acute clinical anaemia will have serious consequences for both animal welfare and profits – because even when hemoglobin levels are restored, the deficit in growth is permanent, he adds: 

“The return to normal hemoglobin levels for piglets with acute clinical anaemia can be accomplished by the administration of injectable iron supplementation, but the recovery period is significantly longer and directly associated with a loss of production”.

Defining best practice cut-off values/Aim for 110

“There is a huge difference in the way anaemia is managed around the world - for instance, cut-off values for hemoglobin concentrations vary from 70 to 160 g Hg/L. But leading experts agree that hemoglobin concentrations below 90 g Hb/L can be used to define cases of acute clinical iron deficiency anaemia, and that the optimal hemoglobin concentration in piglets at weaning which breeders should strive for in order to ensure an optimal ongoing anaemia management of their herd is 110 g Hb/L”, Thomas G. Gillespie says.

Detection in less than 60 seconds

Detecting anaemia with the naked eye is difficult and is further complicated by the fact that, intuitively, we tend to look for it in the smallest piglets when, in fact, the fast growers are increasingly at risk of developing iron deficiency anaemia. But iron deficiency can actually be detected in just 30 seconds. Pharmacosmos, the manufacturer of the global iron brand, Uniferon, has developed a hands-on anaemia point-of-care-program called F.A.C.T. The program – which offers a method for best practice overall anaemia screening and assessment at herd level based on a protocol validated by the International Iron Expert Board – also involves hemoglobin assessment using a HemoCue 201+ Point of Care Analyzer. A simple blood sample from the piglet’s ear will show the hemoglobin concentration in less than 60 seconds - and thereby tell if the piglet is at risk of developing iron deficiency. For more information, please visit 


About Pharmacosmos A/S

  • Pharmacosmos develops and markets medicines for the treatment of iron deficiency in humans and animals. A pioneer within its field since 1965, Pharmacosmos is, today, an original developer and a worldwide leading specialist in prevention and treatment of iron deficiency anaemia in humans and animals. A strict focus on quality – from the highest quality of starting materials to the in-house expertise in manufacturing processes – has earned Pharmacosmos the position as global market leader and preferred partner. Pharmacosmos produces all its iron dextran products at its pharmaceutical manufacturing facility in Holbaek, Denmark. The facility is approved by The European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines & HealthCare (EDQM) as well as The Danish Health and Medicines Authorities and, as the only facility outside the US, by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Pharmacosmos is a family-owned, research-based Danish company operating in more than 50 countries globally. 

Fact box: What is anaemia?

  • Anaemia in piglets is a condition characterized by lack of hemoglobin in the body’s red blood cells. Hemoglobin plays an important part in transporting oxygen from the lungs to the tissues of the body, and when the hemoglobin level is reduced, the body’s access to the vital oxygen is reduced.
  • The most common cause of anaemia in piglets is iron deficiency.Iron deficiency occurs when the piglet’s own iron stores are depleted or when the exposure to stress conditions either inhibits the build-up of hemoglobin or increases the degradation of hemoglobin in the piglet. 

Fact box: Iron deficiency anaemia has different stages

  • The optimal hemoglobin concentration in piglets at weaning is 110 g Hb/L.
  • Hemoglobin concentrations between 90 g Hb/L and 110 g Hb/L can be used to define cases of sub-clinical iron deficiency anaemia.
  • Hemoglobin concentrations below 90 g Hb/L can be used to define cases of acute clinical iron deficiency anaemia. 

Fact box: Early detection is key

  • Iron deficiency is a hidden condition that develops quickly and, therefore, it is often allowed to thrive and cause irreversible damage to a herd before it is detected. If left untreated, a sub-clinical anaemia will quickly turn into the much more serious acute clinical anaemia. 

Fact box: Injectable iron - the most effective preventative measure

  • Injectable iron is recognized as a convenient and safe treatment and the most effective preventative measure for iron deficiency anaemia in piglets. At the same time, it is the only treatment available for targeted treatment of acute clinical anaemia in piglets.   

Fact box: About Uniferon and Pharmacosmos

  • Uniferon is the worldwide leading brand within injectable iron – and the only brand with a global presence.
  • Uniferon is developed by Pharmacosmos – an innovative manufacturer and specialist provider of world-class quality treatments for iron deficiency anaemia in humans and animals all over the world.
  • Uniferon is the only iron brand approved by health authorities in both Europe, Asia and the US.
  • Uniferon is a stable, uniform, top-class quality injectable iron developed for intramuscular or subcutaneous injection in piglets.
  • Uniferon is ready for use and fast and simple to administer.
  • Pharmacosmos and Uniferon treat more than 500 million piglets all over the world each year.

[i]Jens Peter Nielsen, University of Copenhagen (2014): Association of hematological status at weaning and weight gain post-weaning in piglets. 23rd IPVS Congress, Mexico 2014



Anaemia Iron deficiency anaemia Injectable iron Piglet health Iron deficiency Hemoglobin