The likely causes of sow mortality in Danish pig herds were investigated in a sample of 598 of the breeding animals delivered to a large rendering plant in the winter seasons of 1992 and 1993. In 263 cases information about the circumstances of the death or euthanasia and the herd characteristics were available, including the size of the herd, its health status, the age at weaning, the method of feeding and the use of straw for bedding. For these animals the distribution of likely causes of death or euthanasia was: leg weakness, 28.5 per cent; problems related to farrowing and late pregnancy, 20.9 per cent; disorders of the digestive system, 17.1 per cent; disorders of the urinary system, 13.1 per cent; physical injuries, 10.7 per cent; and other disorders, 9.5 per cent. For the other 335 sows the distribution of likely causes of death was: leg weakness, 16.1 per cent; problems related to farrowing and late pregnancy, 10.7 per cent; disorders of the digestive system, 21.2 per cent; disorders of the urinary system, 15.2 per cent; other disorders, 15.0 per cent; and unknown causes of death, 21.8 per cent. According to the official statistics from Danish rendering plants, more than 60,000 carcases of breeding pigs were processed during 1992, corresponding to a mortality rate of 5 to 6 per cent in the sow herds. The mortality rate appeared to increase with increasing herd size, and in herds with more than 100 sows the mortality rate was three times the mortality in herds with fewer than 50 sows. Compared with previous reports, the proportion of disorders involving the gastrointestinal system has increased during the past 20 years. Gastric dilation is particularly common, probably as a result of the intensification of pig production and the associated changes in management practises. The use of straw bedding was marginally significant (P = 0.06) and associated with a low frequency of gastrointestinal disorders.