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J Anim Sci. 2013 Sep;91(9):4180-7. doi: 10.2527/jas.2011-5014. Epub 2013 Jul 3.

Stress susceptibility in pigs supplemented with ractopamine.

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  • 1UNESP, Univ Estadual Paulista, Faculdade de Medicina Veterinária e Zootecnia, Departamento de Produção Animal, 18618-000, Botucatu, São Paulo, Brazil.


Ractopamine is a β-adrenergic agonist used as an energy repartitioning agent in the diets of finishing pigs. Most ractopamine studies are limited to evaluations of growth performance and meat quality, and there is little information on the effects of this additive on the behavior and welfare of pigs. Therefore, the objective of this study was to evaluate various indicators of stress caused by feeding diets containing ractopamine. One hundred seventy barrows and 170 gilts weighing 107.3 kg were allocated to 30 pens with 10 to 12 barrows or gilts per pen. Pigs were offered 1 of the 3 dietary treatments (0, 5, or 10 mg ractopamine/kg) for 28 d with 5 barrow pens and 5 gilt pens per treatment. Pigs were evaluated for behavior 3 d per week 1 wk before the initiation of the experiment and throughout the experiment. Each pig was classified into 1 of the 13 activities (drinking water, lying alone, lying in clusters, standing, nosing pig, sitting, feeding, biting pig, walking, exploring, running away, playing, and mounting pen mates) and also grouped into 1 of the 3 categories (calm, moving, and feeding themselves) based on those activities. At the end of the experiment, 3 pigs from each pen were slaughtered, and blood samples were collected during exsanguination to determine physiological indicators of stress (cortisol, lactate, and creatine-kinase enzymes). The incidence of skin and carcass lesions was determined at shoulder, loin, and ham. Ractopamine had no effect (P > 0.05) on pig behavior, total number of skin and carcass lesions, or blood concentrations of cortisol or lactate. However, there was an increase (P < 0.05) of creatine kinase concentrations in pigs receiving ractopamine-supplemented feed. This finding is consistent with the concept that ractopamine may cause muscular disorders, and this warrants further investigation.

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