Mulberry heart disease

Mulberry heart disease

Description, Causes and Risk Factors:

Abbreviation: MHD.

Mulberry heart disease results from a deficiency of Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) in the ration, exacerbated by low methionine and cystine levels and high fat levels in the diet.

Oxidized fat, copper and the wet storage of cereals, particularly propionic acid stored barley may reduce all the Vitamin E levels. Selenium levels appear to be normal in many cases of this condition, but tissue Vitamin E levels are low even when dietary levels are apparently adequate.

Alpha tocopherol acts both as an antioxidant and as a stabilizer of membrane lipids. A specific loss of membrane bound arachidonic and linolenic acids occurs in Vitamin E deficiency and this is associated with low dietary levels of these acids.

The major clinical signs of this complex deficiency appear to result from the effects on energy metabolism. The most severely affected cells in the pig are hepatocytes (liver cells) and muscle cells in the heart and skeletal muscle. The syndrome develops as a result of congestive heart failure, coupled with hydropericardium.

Heredity may play a part as Landrace pigs have been said to be susceptible.

Risk Factors:

    Diet that has high levels of fat.

  • Vitamin A deficiency.

  • Vitamin E and selenium deficiency.

  • Rapid growth may be a contributing factor.

  • High stocking densities may predispose.

  • Grains stored with high moisture content in high temperatures and with fungal growth may have low levels of vitamin E.


    Pigs of any age may be affected, but the condition commonly occurs in 20-50 kg animals.

  • Affected pigs are anorexic and depressed with muscle weakness and lowered body temperature.

  • They may become cyanotic before death which occurs within 24 hours of the onset of the clinical signs.

  • Sudden death is common.

  • Deaths may occur after handling affected animals within a group and may show some signs of circulatory embarrassment such as lethargy, cyanosis and dejections.

  • Muscle tremor may occur, especially at the shoulders.

  • There may be stiffness, a limp or recumbency.


Histological examinations of the liver, heart or skeletal muscle will confirm diagnosis and this is the most accurate method. Serum samples should be taken from pigs at risk and tested for levels of vitamin E. Normal levels are variable from pig to pig however they should be more than 1.8mg/litre. The availability of selenium can be assessed by measuring the levels of glutathione peroxidase in the serum. If levels are less than 0.025µg/ml or 0.1mg/kg in liver a deficiency should be suspected and rations checked.

The role of vitamin E and selenium in reproductive performance is more difficult to quantify. Improvements have been noted in herds with persistent cases of agalactia and udder edema by raising the levels in the lactating diet to 100 IU/kg.


The use of high levels of Vitamin E (2-3 times the recommended levels) prevents the development of the condition and implies a Vitamin E deficiency. Injection with alpha-tocopherol or alpha-tocopherol-selenium preparations is of value in affected groups of animals. Vitamin E is also available as a component of the fat soluble vitamin mixtures.

Control depends upon ensuring that adequate levels of dietary vitamin E are present in the final ration (10,000 -20,000 IU (3.0-6.0 g/tonne). The suggestion that Vitamin E should be included at five times the fat percentage of the ration measured in mg/kg feed is usually adequate but actively oxidising fats may need up to 20 times the fat percentage. Vitamin E may be restored to normal within a few hours by injection but may take 2 weeks by feed supplementation.

Management control and prevention:

    If problems persist change to another diet with less added fats.

  • Check the levels of PUFA's in the diet.

  • Check the levels of vitamin E and selenium.

  • Check the levels of vitamin A. If more that 10,000 IU/kg this may be increasing the requirement for vitamin E.

  • Rapid growth may be a contributing factor.

  • Reduce stocking densities if pigs are over crowded.

  • Check there are no parasite burdens.

  • Grains stored with high moisture content in high temperatures and with fungal growth may have low levels of vitamin E.

  • Do not breed from animals that carry the stress gene.

NOTE: The above information is educational purpose. The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition.

DISCLAIMER: This information should not substitute for seeking responsible, professional medical care.


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