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Animals 2015, 5(3), 545-560;

Effects of Oxytocin Administration on the Response of Piglets to Weaning

Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, University of Melbourne, Parkville, VIC 3010, Australia
School of Veterinary and Life Sciences, Murdoch University, Murdoch, WA 6150, Australia
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Marina von Keyserlingk
Received: 28 May 2015 / Revised: 1 July 2015 / Accepted: 13 July 2015 / Published: 16 July 2015
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Simple Summary

Weaning is a stressful milestone for domestic animals. It is often performed at an early age and as an abrupt change in comparison to the transitional period seen in feral or wild animals. Oxytocin, a hormone associated with attachment, could improve the response of piglets to weaning. Piglets were either given oxytocin intranasally, subcutaneously, or handled as controls. Oxytocin had no effect on the physiological response to weaning. However, oxytocin increased the frequency of mild aggressive social behaviors between OT-administered and control pigs. Hence, the use of a single administration of oxytocin prior to weaning in pigs is not recommended.


Weaning is often an abrupt and stressful process. We studied the effects of administering oxytocin, subcutaneously or intranasally, on the ability of pigs to cope with weaning. On a commercial farm 144, 30 day-old pigs from 24 litters were used. On the day of weaning, one male and one female in each litter were administered one of three treatments: intranasal oxytocin (24 International Unit), subcutaneous oxytocin (10 International Unit per kg of body weight), or handled as a control. The pigs were placed in one of eight weaner pens, split by sex and with an equal representation of treatments. Data included body weight and growth, physiology (neutrophil:lymphocyte ratio, plasma cortisol, C-reactive protein and Tumor Necrosis Factor-α concentrations), and behavior (feeding, drinking, social behavior). Both oxytocin treatments tended to result in higher levels of mild aggression within groups (p = 0.08), specifically between oxytocin-administered and control pigs (subcutaneous to control p = 0.03; intranasal to control p = 0.10). Subcutaneously-administered pigs tended to frequent the feeder more often than intranasally-administered pigs (p < 0.10), with the latter having slightly lower body weight 38 days post-weaning (p = 0.03). However, acute oxytocin administration did not result in any noticeable physiological changes 4 or 28 h post-weaning. Hence, the use of a single administration of oxytocin prior to weaning in pigs is not recommended, at least not in the conditions studied here. View Full-Text
Keywords: behavior; intranasal; oxytocin; physiology; stress; subcutaneous; sus scrofa behavior; intranasal; oxytocin; physiology; stress; subcutaneous; sus scrofa

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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. (CC BY 4.0).

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MDPI and ACS Style

Rault, J.-L.; Dunshea, F.R.; Pluske, J.R. Effects of Oxytocin Administration on the Response of Piglets to Weaning. Animals 2015, 5, 545-560.

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