Effects of mycotoxin ingestion in pigs

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The subject of the presence or absence of mycotoxins in livestock feed is a vast and recurrent topic. But do you know precisely what a mycotoxin is? What are the consequences, visible or not, of the ingestion of mycotoxins by your animals? Can these mycotoxins have short term or long term effects on your breeding results?

What are mycotoxins?

These are substances produced by several genera of fungi that commonly colonize agricultural products such as cereals (corn, wheat, barley, …), fruits (nuts, pistachios, cocoa, …), spices, and animal feeds. These substances are toxic to humans and animals, even in small doses. Pigs are particularly sensitive to them. There are more than 400 types of mycotoxins. This diversity is found worldwide and no geographical area is spared.

Several factors influence the appearance of mycotoxin-producing fungi during the growth of cereals in the field: weather conditions (high humidity, high temperature), the choice of a low or not very resistant variety or the absence of plowing. During the storage phase of the grains, the development of mycotoxins will be highly favored by a humid environment, high temperatures or grains harvested before being sufficiently dry.

These toxins have rather complex names. The best known are probably deoxynivalenol (DON) (from the Trichothecene family of type B), Zearalenone (ZEN) or Ergot alkaloids (EAs). These are the so called major mycotoxins.

But beware! They are not the only ones to have big impacts on livestock. Other categories of mycotoxins less known as Trichothecenes type A (Toxin T-2, HT-2, …), Aflatoxins, Fumonisins, Ochratoxins , can have major effects on pigs.

Some mycotoxins (Citrinin, Beauvericin…) called emerging mycotoxins are still little known and their effects on humans and animals are still under study.


The additional effects of all these mycotoxins have been demonstrated. When several mycotoxins are present, the effects of one or the other of them can be manifested, the effects of all mycotoxins can be expressed, but can also be amplified by the presence of several mycotoxins.

What are the potential effects on sows if ingested?

Here are some of the potential injuries caused by mycotoxin ingestion in diagram form

This diagram details a part of the consequences that can be observed in animals that have ingested mycotoxins. However, these lesions are not the only ones. Mycotoxins can also have impacts on the offspring of your sows, in-utero. This can be seen on the piglets at birth: low birth weight, small litters, fetal death and resorptions, bone and visceral deformations, and so on. In addition, also on the long term: immune alterations (predisposition to diseases), ovarian degeneration (future difficulties for the reproduction of sows) or reduction of the spermatic quality for the future reproductive males…

Being responsible for health and reproductive disorders in animals, mycotoxins can highly reduce performance and create significant economic damage.

It is therefore important to monitor their potential presence by performing regular analyses. Because of their potentially additional effects, it is important to analyze the whole feed, rather than a single cereal or a co-product (oilcake, beet pulp, spent grain, bran, wheat millings can also be contaminated).

How to make a good analysis?

In order to carry out a relevant analysis of your food, it should not be forgotten that the presence of mycotoxins is heterogeneous in the silos of corn or cereals. The first objective during this sampling will be to obtain a representative sample of the general quality of your batch. To do this, it is necessary to take several sub-samples from different parts of the lot. Then, they must be grouped into a global sample. Finally, it is necessary to take the final sample from the aggregate sample, which will be sent to the laboratory. Once this sampling is done, it is necessary to fill out a document requesting the analysis, detailing your contact information as well as the information necessary for the analysis of your sample.

You can check as well raw materials or complete feed. Analyze raw materials can give you information if you have to decrease the percentage in final feed in case of contamination. Analyze complete feed give you the contamination level. Note that there are two types of analysis. A simple analysis allows the research of deoxynivalenol (DON), zearalenone (ZEN) and nivalenol (NIV), known and widespread mycotoxins. A much more complete analysis looks for the presence of families of mycotoxins and makes it possible to identify contamination by less common mycotoxins.

How to protect your pets?

All physiological stages of the pig must be protected from the effects of mycotoxins, with priority given to piglets, gilts, suckling sows and pregnant sows before meat producers. Indeed, piglets and sows are sensitive to mycotoxins from low toxicity thresholds and the formulas must guarantee a systematic protection of these sensitive stages. For the others, control plans and monitoring of breeding must allow a quick reaction in case of doubt.

Several solutions exist to protect the food. Note that the heat treatment of the food (thermised food) is ineffective on mycotoxins.

  • Adsorption by collectors: These are adsorbent substances (clays, yeasts, silicates or plant carbon) that capture the mycotoxins and neutralize their toxicity. This mode of action is the most common in the fight against mycotoxins. While a good sensor can immobilize aflatoxins, ergot alkaloids and ochratoxins, there are other mycotoxins that cannot be adsorbed. Trichothecenes (such as deoxynivalenol), fumonisins and zearalenone require other detoxification strategies.
  • Bio-transformation: In addition to the adsorption of mycotoxins, enzymes, purified or produced from micro-organisms, allow a detoxification by biotransformation, in order to specifically and irreversibly deactivate mycotoxins in the digestive tract. This method is specific to the DSM references of the MYCOFIX range, the only products approved by the EU for their effectiveness.
  • The bio protection: Algae and plant extracts are selected and associated for their properties to support the liver and the immune system of the animals.

In conclusion

  • The consequences of mycotoxin ingestion in pigs can have a significant impact on your breeding results in the long or short term.
  • Their direct effects are relatively well known. Their long-term consequences, by impacting the health, immunity or reproductive capacity of piglets, through in-utero intoxication or through the mother’s milk, are sometimes underestimated.
  • It is important to check the whole feed at least twice a year, in order to verify the absence of major or emerging mycotoxins. It is necessary to carry out the most complete analysis possible and not stop at the search for the most known mycotoxins. If straw is used for bedding, it should also be checked.
  • There are different solutions to control mycotoxins to protect your food, depending on the types of mycotoxins present during the analysis.

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