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Porcine Health Manag. 2018 Sep 12;4:18. doi: 10.1186/s40813-018-0095-4. eCollection 2018.

Current challenges in the diagnosis of zearalenone toxicosis as illustrated by a field case of hyperestrogenism in suckling piglets.

Author information

Field Station for Epidemiology, University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, Foundation, Buescheler Straße 9, 49456 Bakum, Germany.
Tierarztpraxis im Holbeinring, Holbeinring 16, 35369 Gießen, Germany.
BIOMIN Holding GmbH, Erber Campus 1, 3131 Getzersdorf, Austria.
4University Clinic for Swine, Department for Farm Animals and Veterinary Public Health, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, Veterinaerplatz 1, 1210 Vienna, Austria.
5Functional Botanical Substances, Institute of Animal Nutrition and Functional Plant Compounds, Department for Farm Animals and Veterinary Public Health, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, Veterinaerplatz 1, 1210 Vienna, Austria.
6Center for Analytical Chemistry, Department for Agrobiotechnology (IFA-Tulln), University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (BOKU), Konrad Lorenz Str. 20, 3430 Tulln, Austria.
BIOMIN Research Center, Technopark 1, 3430 Tulln, Austria.



The mycotoxin zearalenone (ZEN) causes functional and morphological alterations in reproductive organs of pigs. In the field, diagnosis of ZEN-induced disorders is often challenging, as relevant feed lots are no longer available, or feed analysis results are not conclusive. Here, we report a field case of hyperestrogenism in newborn piglets. Surprisingly, more than 50 fungal metabolites were detected in hay pellets fed to gestating sows, including ZEN and its modified form zearalenone-14-sulfate (ZEN-14-S). Despite the broad contamination range in this unconventional feed component, a definite diagnosis of mycotoxicosis could not be achieved. In this context, current limitations regarding the confirmation of suspected cases of ZEN-induced disorders are discussed, covering both feed analysis and the biomarker approach.

Case presentation:

A piglet producer with 200 sows experienced a sudden increase in suckling piglet losses up to 30% by lower vitality and crushing. Predominant clinical signs were splay legs and signs of hyperestrogenism such as swollen and reddened vulvae in newborn piglets. The first differential diagnosis was ZEN mycotoxicosis although feed batches had not been changed for months with the exception of ground hay pellets, which had been included in the diet five months before. Analysis of hay pellets resulted in a sum value of ZEN and its modified forms of more than 1000 μg/kg, with ZEN-14-S alone accounting for 530 μg/kg. Considering the inclusion rate of 7% in the diet for gestating sows, the severe impact of the additional ZEN load due to the contaminated hay pellets seemed unrealistic but could not be completely excluded either. One month after hay pellets had been removed from the diet no further clinical signs were observed.


Enrichment materials and other fibre sources can contain significant amounts of mycotoxins and should be therefore included in feed analysis. Adequate methods for broad spectrum mycotoxin determination, including modified mycotoxins, are important. As highlighted by this field case, there is a need to establish reliable biomarkers for ZEN exposure in pigs. Currently, available biomarkers do not allow a solid prediction of the ZEN intake of pigs under field conditions, which limits their application to experimental studies.


Biomarker; Gestating sow; Hay; Liquid chromatography; Metabolites; Modified mycotoxins; Mycotoxins; Splay leg; Tandem mass spectrometry; Zearalenone

Conflict of interest statement

Not applicableNot applicableThe authors declare that they have no competing interests.Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

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