Assessment of unconsciousness in pigs during exposure to nitrogen and carbon dioxide mixtures

Animal. 2013 Mar;7(3):492-8. doi: 10.1017/S1751731112001966. Epub 2012 Oct 26.


The aim of this study was to assess unconsciousness in pigs during and after the exposure to gas mixtures of 70% nitrogen (N(2)) and 30% carbon dioxide (CO(2)) (70N30C), 80% N(2) and 20% CO(2) (80N20C) and 85% N(2) and 15% CO(2) (85N15C) compared with 90% CO(2) in air (90C) by means of the Index of Consciousness(®)(IoC), their behaviour and the absence of brain stem reflexes. The experiment included three trials of 24 pigs divided into four groups according to the number of treatments. Half of the group was exposed for a short time and the other half for a long time (3 and 5 min for the N(2)/CO(2) mixtures exposure and 2 and 3 min in 90C exposure, respectively). During exposure, the IoC and the electroencephalography suppression rate (ESR) were assessed, as well as the time to onset and percentage of gasping, loss of balance, vocalizations, muscular excitation and gagging. At the end of the exposure, the corneal reflex, rhythmic breathing and sensitivity to pain were each assessed at 10 s intervals for 5 min. Brain activity decreased significantly (P < 0.05) 37.60 s after the start of the exposure to 90% CO(2), which was significantly earlier than in 70N30C, 80N20C and 85N15C exposure, (45.18 s, 46.92 s and 43.27 s, respectively). Before brain activity decreased, all pigs experienced gasping and loss of balance and a 98% muscular excitation. The duration of the muscular excitation was longer in animals exposed to 70N30C, 80N20C and 85N15C than 90C (P < 0.01). After a long exposure time, all animals exposed to 90C died, whereas the 30.4% of animals exposed to N(2)/CO(2) gas mixtures survived. Pigs exposed to 85N15C recovered corneal reflex and sensitivity to pain significantly earlier than when exposed to 90C. Exposure to 90C causes a higher aversive reaction but a quicker loss of consciousness than N(2)/CO(2) gas mixtures. Exposure to N(2)/CO(2) gas mixtures causes a lower percentage of deaths and an earlier recovery of the brain stem activity than 90C, whereas the time to recover the cortical activity is similar. In conclusion, the inhalation of N(2)/CO(2) gas mixtures reduces the aversion compared with high concentrations of CO(2); however, the period of exposure for inducing unconsciousness may be longer in N(2)/CO(2) gas mixtures, and the signs of recovery appear earlier, compared to CO(2).

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abattoirs*
  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animal Welfare / standards*
  • Animals
  • Carbon Dioxide / administration & dosage
  • Carbon Dioxide / pharmacology*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Combinations
  • Electroencephalography / veterinary
  • Female
  • Linear Models
  • Nitrogen / administration & dosage
  • Nitrogen / pharmacology*
  • Pain Measurement / veterinary
  • Respiration / drug effects
  • Swine / physiology*
  • Time Factors
  • Unconsciousness / chemically induced*
  • Unconsciousness / physiopathology*


  • Drug Combinations
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Nitrogen