Owning Pot Belly Pigs

Many things contribute to a happy, healthy pig. The following article by Arlen Wilbers, D.V.M., is in no way exhaustive, but it is an attempt to touch on some common problems and offer some common sense guidelines to the potbellied pig owner or soon-to-be owner.

What is a Miniature Potbellied Pig?

The potbellied pig originated in the Orient centuries ago; thus it is often referred to as the “Yuppie House Pet.” They are a unique breed of their own and are not bred from the familiar American farm pig. The Chinese house pig, the Vietnamese potbellied pig, and the miniature potbellied pig are all names referring to the same breed. Potbellied pigs were introduced into the United States in 1985, and have captured the interest and hearts of millions.

Potbellied pigs have short wrinkled noses, perky little ears, sway backs, straight tails (that wag like dogs’ tails), and, of course, pot bellies.

At the present time, research has indicated that these little animals, with proper care, can live approximately fifteen years. Potbellied pigs are docile, easy going and have virtually no body odor. Their intelligence has been compared to the dolphins and primates, thus making them one of the most intelligent house pets known.

The miniature potbellied pig is truly a remarkable animal and a remarkable pet. They prefer a clean environment, will not scratch your furniture, and are not prone to getting fleas or ticks. Because potbellied pigs do not shed like a dog or a cat, they are the perfect pet for anyone who suffers from common pet allergies.

The miniature potbellied pig is an exceptionally intelligent pet for those of you who can give love and attention to a gentle and loyal companion.

How to Keep Your Potbellied Pig Healthy

In the past several years, the mini’pig has become an increasingly popular companion animal. This is due to its relative intelligence and strong human bonding characteristics. This surge in ownership has led to many problems, including legal battles, human/pig conflicts, and general lack of health care knowledge among owners and veterinarians alike.

Feeding

Many factors affect the physical health of your mini–pig; however, one of the most common mistakes is overfeeding, thus over’conditioning of minipigs. This is probably due to the concept we have entertained since childhood of a fat rounded pig who will eat anything. But remember the fate of that pig.

Healthy body condition does not include a pendoulous belly and fluctuant jowels. Ribs should not be visible, but should be easily felt. Jowels should not obscure the jaw and fat rolls on the face should be absent.

Obesity predisposes tendon determinates in the legs, poor foot wear and entropion which may progress to mechanical blindness. Obesity also puts your pet into a bad surgical risk category should emergency surgery be necessary, not to mention long–term head problems and other organ failures.

How much to feed depends on your pig’s condition and activity level and must be adjusted as needed; there is no formula. Diet should consist of a commercial balanced and formulated mini–pig food, grazing time, and small fruit and vegetable treats. Dog and cat food are too rich in protein and calories and are not balanced for pigs. Fruits have sugar in them and these tend to increase weight gain. Many owners supplement vitamins. This is usually unnecessary if the pigs are on a commercial diet and rarely causes a serious problem. Consult your veterinarian concerning your pig’s condition and diet.

Environment

Proper environment is also important in maintaining health. Another common problem is irregular foot wear and lack of exercise leading to dropped pasterns. As was said earlier, weight is a contributor to this problem. Foot trimming has become necessary in companion pigs due to the surface they live on. Carpets, hardwood floors, grass and linoleum do not wear feet enough to keep up with nail growth. Allowing the nail to become long shifts weight back on to the padded heel and stretches the flexor tendons over time, which in turn causes less exercise and an acceleration of this condition. This can be avoided by keeping weight off your pet and exercising on a granular surface such as concrete. If this is not possible, frequent trimming will be necessary.

Selecting a Veterinarian

One of the most important decisions you will make in the health of your pig is which veterinarian you will use. Most veterinarians are either farm animal or companion animal oriented. Companion animal veterinarians in general are unfamiliar with pig diseases, medicines, and physiology and are uncomfortable handling pigs that can be quite vocal and disrupt their practice environment. Farm animal veterinarians are more familiar with pigs but not in a companion form and may find it difficult to incorporate pet animal mentality into their thing. Also, farm vets are no longer available in many areas, so choosing a vet becomes a serious dilemma.

Some recommendations may help. First, make sure the practitioner is willing to learn, has a personable manner, and is willing to say, "I don’t know."

Ask about their experience with mini–pigs. Talk with other pig owners who use that veterinarian and listen to their opinions and experiences. Find out about vaccinations uses and routine care practiced by the veterinarian. Here are some guidelines.

Vaccinations

Vaccinations should include Erysipelas, Bondatella, and Pasturella on a yearly basis after an initial double dose at 6 – 10 weeks and 12 – 14 weeks. Tetanus should be given on a yearly basis. Leptospirosis 5 way and Parvovirus are recommended for breeding females. Be careful, reactions to lepto vaccinations are common. Rabies is not approved in pigs. Pigs are resistant to rabies and are very unlikely to contract this disease. Cat and dog vaccinations are unacceptable. Lymes vaccine is not approved in pigs. Remember, vaccinations are expensive and if they are doubtful in value, should be avoided, especially since occasional reactions do occur.

Anesthesia

Anesthesia–technique, use and type are extremely important and could greatly affect the health of your pig. Inhalant anesthesia, using Isofluorane and no pre’anesthesia such as atropine or glycopyrilate is probably the safest, easiest and best, but is expensive. Quick recovery and few side effects are expected.

Halothane should be safe as well since the malignant hyperthermia gene is not present in mini–pigs. Indictable anesthesia is seldom a viable alternative. Injection sites in pigs are difficult to reliably know if the dose was administered to fat, muscle, or blood, which in each case can have a widely different effect on the level of anesthesia and recovery time. Violent recoveries are the norm. If IV catheters are present, indictable anesthetics are much cheaper and more effective.

Anesthesia should be used for castration, spaying, or any major surgery. Anesthesia is not necessary for hoof trimming, vaccinations, or trimming of small tusks. As tusks increase in size, anesthesia may become necessary. In general, less anesthesia, less risk.

When to Call a Vet

Knowing when to call a vet is very important. Time can sometimes be critical. A general rule is when in doubt, call. But here are some things to look for:

Many other possibilities exist and common sense is in order. Some practical things to have in supply would include:
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