Potbellied Pigs

Erica Mede, CVT

Natural History

Pot bellied pigs are often called Vietnamese and Asian pot bellied pigs aptly named for their round appearance. These animals are a subspecies of the domestic farm pig and have several of the same characteristics, especially personality wise. Many folks have found that even the “teacup” and “micro mini” pigs are reaching adult sizes of 60-175 pounds and they mature between 3-5 years! This is completely normal but often the reason that rescues and sanctuaries are full of the pitter patter of little hooves.

A mature pig can become territorial and aggressive (which is decreased with neutering and spaying) as they try to establish dominance in the household. Setting up rules and boundaries and use of a firm “no!” will help establish the owner as “top pig”. The key to good training of these sensitive creatures is to be gentle but firm and always consistent. Never physically discipline pot bellied pigs. In the case of pigs, as with nearly all animals, praise and prevention are better training tools than aggressive discipline. Remember, don’t discipline for pigs destroying an item that was not put away properly.

These head strong, intelligent, playful, and affectionate animals live 12-20 years depending on breeding, diet, and overall health. Although pigs are demanding they have the added bonus of being relatively allergy free as well as clean! Pot bellied pigs have become infamous for learning how to open fridge doors, cabinet doors, run through doors when they hear the treat bag, and genuinely being inquisitive. It is highly recommended that pig proofing your home (similar to toddler, puppy, parrot, or ferret proofing) be started prior to your new pet having full range of the home! It is worth mentioning that pigs are not fond of being held especially when they become older. Their feet leaving the ground is unnatural for them and many start to panic.

Diet

Pot bellied pigs are omnivores and they are continuously hungry! Many owners have ended up with obese pigs because of their ability to beg for food. Typically, pigs fair best when fed twice a day. Depending on their age, size, activity and general health status pigs over a year old receive 1-1.5 cups of food each feeding. Pigs that lay around the house will be fed less than the ones that run around the yard rooting everything up. Piglets 6 weeks old up to a year old should be offered 2-2.5 cups of food due to the accelerated growth at this age. Remember, pigs will always beg and whine for more!

Suggested commercial diets:

  • Mazuri
  • Heartland
  • Peak Performance
  • Nutrina
  • Manna Pro

Do not offer dog or cat food, these are not formulated for pot bellied pigs and often have too much protein and fat. A children’s chewable vitamin should be offered daily and can be used as a morning treat!

Foods to avoid:

Table scraps and human junk food. These are often high in fats, protein, and salt. Table scraps can also promote inappropriate begging behavior. Chocolate, as always is best not offered to pigs.

Fruit. These are often high in natural sugars and calories. A piece a day is fine but this should not be fed frequently. Pigs also do not do well with the acidity in citrus fruits

Corn and Potatoes. This is high starch, sugar, and carbs that pot bellied pigs don’t need. Domestic farm raised pigs are frequently fed corn to promote growth of fat.

Appropriate treats:

  • Cheerios
  • Unsalted and unbuttered popcorn
  • Tiny pieces of cheese
  • Commercially produced pig treats (watch the sugar content!)

Enclosures

Keeping pot bellied pigs in the house is hard, keeping them physically in the yard is harder as they love to root under fences. Their strong noses have been known to completely elevate fences in their determination to find food and larger pigs go right through them! Yards ideally should be enclosed with hog panels or cattle panels (easily purchased online or through farm stores such as Rural King and Farm and Fleet), cedar fencing or chain linked reinforced on the bottom with chicken wire. Regardless of the fencing material used, the fence will have to be set deeper into the ground than normal to avoid rooting the fence up!

All pigs should be offered an outdoor enclosure with a sturdy weather proof shed area where they can escape bad weather and temperature extremes.

Substrate

Avoid using cedar chips and pine chips as the aromatic oils can be irritating the skin of pet bellied pigs as well as their respiratory tract. Blankets are a wonderful substrate for sleeping areas to help them feel cozy and like they were in a burrow. Pigs will shred and rearrange their blankets until they have it just right! For this reason, sleeping bags are not recommended and they also tend to cause over heating. Thicker blankets are a better option for the colder days. If the pig is going to be living outdoors, straw is an appropriate substrate and when piled high enough offers warmth as well.

Pigs that are being litter box trained should be offered newspaper as a substrate.

Temperature and Humidity

Pigs, in general, don’t sweat except for the very top end of their nose. Do not leave your pig unattended in areas over 76 degrees Fahrenheit! High humidity must be avoided especially during hot days.

Enrichment

Pigs become easily bored, especially when kept indoors and can become destructive in the home. Certain behaviors such as rooting are instinctual and can not be stopped but it can be redirected to a specified rooting area! If you are able to provide a spot in the yard of soft dirt this is best but a 2 x 2 foot frame can be created in the home that acts as a rooting box. Fill the frame like you would a toy box. Paper towel, newspaper and butcher paper can all be crinkled up or laid on top of the toys and treats (Cheerios and pig food are a favorite for this!) to simulate successful rooting outdoors. Hay is also an excellent addition and provides novel textures and scents. This alone will provide pigs with hours of entertainment!

Toys for pigs don’t have to be expensive or elaborate. Simple items like crumpled up newspaper, paper towel rolls with newspaper on either end holding in treats, and regular balls are a favorite of most pigs. Pigs will enjoy anything they can tear up, similar to a parrot.
Kiddy pools of clean water outdoors during spring and summer is vital for keeping pot bellied pigs healthy. Mud holes, if you can part with a section of lawn, are excellent for their skin and also to help cool them down. Pigs do not sweat and rely heavily on water and mud to cool their bodies.

Grooming

Pigs don’t require a ton of grooming up keep but there are several things owners must be aware of.

Grooming considerations include:

  • Children’s Sunscreen. Pigs will burn in the sun same as a toddler. Always apply sunscreen especially to their back, ears, and the tops of their noses!
  • Moisturizer Lotion. Pot bellied pig skin will dry out and crack if it is not properly moisturized. This is especially important after they were in water.
  • Baths. They only need a once a month bath to remove any dirt and help keep the skin in top shape. An oatmeal based organic shampoo is best. Pig skin is very sensitive! Keep this in mind.
  • Brushing. Pigs require daily brushing with a soft bristled brush.
  • Hoof Trims. Pigs hate having their hooves trimmed and frequently scream as if they are being harmed. This is not a painful procedure.
  • Tusk Trims. Tusks need to be trimmed to prevent overgrowth.
  • Ear Cleaning. Their ears should be cleaned once a week.

Kristin Claricoates, DVM

Swine erysipelas is caused by a bacterium, Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae.  This infection gets its name from the diamond patches on the skin that occur as a result of the bacteria.  Pigs and turkeys are most commonly affected, but cases have been reported in other birdssheepfish, and reptiles.

On pig farms, and it is thought that up to 50% of the swine population may carry it. This is because recovered pigs and chronically infected pigs may become carriers of E rhusiopathiae and because healthy swine also may be asymptomatic carriers. Since it is thought that it is always present in either the pig or in the environment as saliva, feces, or urine, it is impossible to eliminate it from a herd.  While just the bacteria is sufficient to cause the diamond skin disease, it is also thought that infections with other viruses like PRRS and influenza can trigger the outbreak.  When pigs are younger than about 12 weeks of age, they are protected by antibodies from the mother which they get in their mother’s milk (colostrum).  Older pigs tend to develop protective immunity as a result of exposure to serotypes that do not cause clinical disease.  As a result, the most susceptible pigs to this disease are growing pigs that are not yet vaccinated against diamond skin disease.

Erysipelas infections occur when the organism is ingested through the environmental contamination and multiplies in the body.  The bacteria then travels in the bloodstream to other sites, causing a septicemia (a widespread infection through the blood).  The bacteria can go to the skin, where it causes blockage of small blood vessels.  Because of the restricted blood supply, the skin does not get enough oxygen and slowly dies.  The skin initially becomes a raised reddened diamond area that ultimately turns black due to the dead tissue.

Depending on how quickly this occurs and how quickly the body responds to the infection, this outcome for the pig changes.  The speed of the body’s reaction determines the clinical symptoms a pig presents with.  Pigs that experience peracute or acute disease oftentimes do not have clinical signs except death, which occurs from septicemia or heart failure.  Other times, a fever and general signs of infection are present.  With a pig experiencing subacute disease, signs may include inappetance, infertility, fever, diamond skin lesions, necrosis and sloughing of the tips of the ears and tail, and in pregnant females this disease can cause stillbirths, mummified piglets, and abortions.  In chronic disease, the organism causes far fewer deaths and can either affect the joints causing a marked lameness or cause problems with the heart and the valves of the heart where bacterial colonies attach and may scatter into the bloodstream at any time.  Pigs with valvular lesions may exhibit few clinical signs; however, when exerted physically they may show signs of respiratory distress and possibly succumb to the infection.  Boars typically develop fevers and the sperm count can be negatively affected for the complete development period of 5-6 weeks.

Some things that may contribute or cause these infections are as follows: dirty pens, no all-in all-out procedures or disinfection protocols, contaminated water source, movement or transport of pigs which can increase their stress level and make them susceptible to infections, sudden changes in diet or temperature, wet feeding systems particularly if milk products are used, and feedback of feces.

The diagnosis of erysipelas is based on clinical signs, gross lesions, and response to antimicrobial therapy. Acute erysipelas can be difficult to diagnose in individual pigs showing only fever, poor appetite, and listlessness. However, in outbreaks involving several animals, the presence of skin lesions and lameness is likely to be seen in at least some cases and would support a clinical diagnosis. Diamond skin lesions are diagnostic when present. A PCR test, if available, augments the diagnosis of acute erysipelas, or complement fixation texts may be done.

E rhusiopathiae can be treated effectively with penicillin. Ideally, affected pigs should be treated twice daily for a minimum of 3 days, although longer durations of therapy may be necessary to resolve severe infections.  Fever associated with acute infections can be managed by administration of NSAID such as flunixin meglumine or by delivery of aspirin in the water.

To prevent an outbreak from ever happening, a vaccination against E rhusiopathiae is very important.  Injectable bacterins and attenuated, live vaccines delivered via the water are available and provide extended duration of immunity. When E rhusiopathiae is endemic in the production environment, vaccination should precede anticipated outbreaks. Susceptible pigs may be vaccinated prior to weaning, at weaning, or several weeks post-weaning. Male and female swine selected for addition to the breeding herd should be vaccinated, with a booster 3–5 wk later. Thereafter, breeding stock should be vaccinated twice yearly. Vaccines should not be administered to animals undergoing antibiotic therapy because antibiotics can interfere with the subsequent immune response to the vaccine.

Works CitedRagland, Darryl. “Swine Erysipelas.” March 2012. The Merck Veterinary Manual. 4 March 2015.

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