Inevitably, pigs will experience stressors that antagonize lean tissue accretion, appetite, and feed conversion. Depending on the production system and age of the pig, these stressors commonly include weaning transition, diet changes, vaccination, enteric and respiratory pathogen challenges, activation of the HPA axis, and social stress. Additionally, the morbidity and mortality that accompany these stressors may be exacerbated by the illegalization of sub-therapeutic antibiotic use for growth promotion (AGPs) by the Veterinary Feed Directive.
However, morbidity and mortality may also be mitigated by diet ingredients via direct and indirect modes of action on gastrointestinal health and function. The gastrointestinal tract has the vital but conflicting functions of nutrient and water absorption, while simultaneously regulating host mucosal defenses against noxious luminal contents such as microorganisms and their toxins. This puts the gastrointestinal tract epithelium and splenic tissue at the front line of nutrition, growth, and health of the pig in the new age of antimicrobial resistance concerns. As part of the body’s splanchnic tissues, the gastrointestinal tract is very metabolically active and has high utilization of luminal nutrients and energy. This utilization or “first pass metabolism” by intestinal epithelial and lamina propria cells can be a major determinant of the systemic or post-absorptive availability of glucose, essential and non-essential amino acids, and short and long chain fatty acids. This makes the gastrointestinal tract critically important to the growth and health of livestock and avian species.
This paper will discuss the physiological impact of various stress challenges and nutrition on pig performance, gastrointestinal function and integrity.