Söderquist, A., Wallenbeck, A., Lindahl, C. 2023. Social support in a novel situation aimed for stunning and euthanasia of pigs may be increased by familiar pigs—A behavioural study with weaners. Animals 13(3), 481.

The common method of stunning pigs using high concentration carbon dioxide prior to slaughter poses an animal welfare issue, as the gas is aversive. Proof of concept for using nitrogen gas encapsulated in high-expansion foam as an alternative non-aversive method for stunning pigs has recently been presented. However, the individually tested pigs showed distress-related responses to foam exposure, regardless of whether it was nitrogen- or air-filled. This study examined the effect of companionship from a familiar or unfamiliar pig on behaviours in 72 nine-weeks old pigs during exposure to air-filled foam. Escape attempts were observed by 75% of solitary pigs, 42% of pigs with unfamiliar conspecifics, and 33% of pigs with familiar conspecifics. Familiar pig pairs clearly preferred social contact during foam exposure, whereas this was not as clear in unfamiliar pig pairs, and their motivation for social contact could have multiple explanations. The results from this study highlight the importance of contact with conspecifics when studying animal welfare and suggest that familiarity between pigs is important for social support, thus emphasizing the importance of maintaining social groups to reduce distress in pigs at slaughter.

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