Wilbur is a barrow, approximately 10 years old. He was rescued after having been raised as a “house pig” for the first 4 years of his life and then abandoned by his owners. He has always been an outgoing and friendly little pig with a mild disposition and not disposed to fighting with his herd mates. He enjoyed human companionship and displayed all of the typical potbellied pig weaknesses for belly rubs and snacks.
Wilbur made the transition from “house pig” to outdoor pig easily. On arrival at the sanctuary, he was wormed with Dectomax, and vaccinated for Erysipelas, Brucellosis, Pseudorabies, Tetanus and Mycoplasma. Worming has been accomplished routinely every spring and fall and his vaccinations have been maintained annually since his arrival at the sanctuary. He has not been ill since his arrival at the sanctuary over 6 years ago.
Wilbur is an average sized potbellied pig. Estimated weight before his illness was 140-160 pounds. He tended to be one of the “heavier” pigs in the herd and, like several of the older barrows in his herd, was fairly sedentary. However, he stayed active enough that routine hoof trimming was not necessary. His tusks were due to be trimmed in June.
Wilbur lives in a one-acre pasture with 21 other rescued pigs….a mixture of barrows, gilts and sows. The pasture is maintained in pasture grass: a mixture of alfalfa, fescue, timothy, clover, orchard grass, etc. As with all the pigs in his herd, he receives a twice-daily ration of the alfalfa based pig pellets that are fed to all the pigs at the sanctuary. All the pigs in his herd are rescues, all vaccinated and wormed regularly and all are relatively small pigs. No new pigs had been added to his herd in the past 6 months. His herd is physically separated from all the other herds at the sanctuary. No other animals in his herd (or any other herd) are, or have been, sick. Wilbur was last seen by the vet approximately three weeks prior to the onset of his illness as a matter of routine and was apparently healthy and fit.
Over the winter (1999 and 2000), Wilbur began showing some signs of discomfort with his rear legs when walking. The problem appeared transitory and related to cold, damp weather. The assumption was made that he may be coming down with the early signs of arthritis. As the weather improved, Wilbur’s difficulty walking improved somewhat and, at the vet’s recommendation, we had agreed to simply observe him over the summer and attempt to reduce his weight by about 20 pounds.
On 5/5/00 we noted that Wilbur was having extreme difficulty walking at evening feedings. His rear legs appeared to be giving him a great deal of trouble and he was unsteady on his feet. He fell several times while trying to eat and finally gave up and returned to his barn. He did not feel feverish, but he protested loudly when he was made to get up. He drank water and appeared to be urinating and defecating normally. A decision was made to observe him for 24 hours before calling the vet.
On 5/6 Wilbur was unable to get up for the AM feeding. Walking was extremely difficult for him and his rear legs appeared to be extremely weak. We noted some pedal edema in all four legs, but more pronounced in the hocks of his rear legs. A routine call was placed to the vet. Wilbur moved to the large mud hole where he drank and submerged himself in the mud and water at around 9:00 AM. Temperatures that day quickly elevated to the mid 90’s… uncharacteristically hot for that time of year. The animals were checked regularly since most had not yet blown their winter coats. At 11:00 AM Wilbur was still resting comfortably in his mud hole and was reluctant to move out of it.
At noon on 5/6 we heard Wilbur begin screaming. We ran to his pasture to find him midway between the mud hole and the barn, in the direct sunlight. He was lying on his side with several pigs attacking him. He was breathing approximately 60 times a minute in short, ragged breaths and was unable to rise on his own. He was extremely hot to the touch. We immediately began cooling him with a garden hose and as soon as his breathing returned to a more normal rate and he had adequate respiratory depth we moved him by tractor to a shaded pen under the house. He was placed on clean straw with a fine water mist and fan on him. We noted no seizure activity; however, both pupils were fixed and dilated. He was lethargic but conscious and would respond appropriately to painful stimuli. His temperature rectally was approximately 108 degrees F. Heart rate was approximately 160-180. Lungs were clear bilaterally by auscultation but breathing remained rapid and shallow at a rate of about 40-50.
An emergency call was placed to the vet who was tied up on another emergency. He prescribed IM Banamine, Excenel IM and oral Bute (1/4G daily) until he could arrive and check him out.
By 8:00 PM Wilbur’s fever had broken and was down to 102 rectally. One pupil was now equal and reactive while the other was still fixed and dilated. He was lethargic and unable to stand. We began syringing water and Pedialyte as he would take it. We were able to syringe over 1000 cc of fluids that evening.
For the next 5 days Wilbur’s fever would spike to 107-108 as soon as the end of the effective dose of the Banamine was reached. As long as he was on the Banamine, his fever remained about 102. He refused to eat, but willingly accepted syringed water and Pedialyte. Urinary output was minimal but consistent. No stools were noted over the 5-day period, but since he was not eating, this was not a source of major concern. On the second day, both pupils were equal and reactive to light, but he remained very lethargic and with a resting pulse of around 110. Respiratory effort was good and lungs continued to be clear bilaterally, but breathing remained relatively shallow. On the fifth day the fever broke and has remained at or around 100 degrees F. ever since. Excenel and Bute were continued, but the Banamine was discontinued when the fever broke.
The vet’s first diagnosis was a viral vasculitis and blood was drawn and sent off. It was noted a severe echymosis particularly between the forelimbs and down to the feet of the forelimbs as well as on the hind limbs. Pedal edema was pronounced and there was a marked discoloration of all non-pigmented skin. There also appeared multiple ulcerated areas on the coronary bands of the hind feet…less severe on the front feet. At this point the vet was unsure if this was related to this primary problem or secondary to the fever.
According to the vet, the only abnormalities in the blood results were a slightly elevated white cell count and an extremely high protein level.
On 5/13, Wilbur began sloughing skin. Virtually all of the skin on his body has, or is currently, sloughing. There have been a number of large, necrotic holes. Some have become approximately two to three inches in diameter, although most are smaller. All are approximately 1″ thick and deep enough to penetrate the entire layer of subcutaneous fat. No muscle tissue has been visible through the holes. The original sloughing left weeping reddish wounds under the skin, but subsequent sloughing took place with new, non-pigmented skin under the old skin.
Wilbur was maintained on Tucoprim powder as a guard against infection while his skin was sloughing and early on we had him on two week regimen of Azium 10 mg. Orally. He began eating a mixture of pelletized feed, yogurt and Pedialyte. He was able to drink and eat on his own. For three weeks he had to be syringed and spoon-fed primarily because the skin sloughing around his face, mouth and nose made it difficult for him to eat or drink normally. Plus, it is still difficult for him to stand long enough to eat and drink normally.
He is now able to get up unassisted although he remains very unsteady on his feet. His rear legs are neither as strong nor as steady as his front feet and seem to be still swollen. However, the skin is just now sloughing off his rear legs and feet and the new skin over his rear feet appears tight and cracks easily when he bends his rear hooves. This may account for his reluctance to use his rear legs and feet. On good days he is let out to walk, graze and exercise. He is now drinking several gallons of water daily and eating well on his own, although he must be assisted since he cannot stand for long periods of time without falling down. He is alert and complains loudly when bothered or made to get up and move.
It is difficult to tell at this point whether there is any circulatory compromise to the rear legs and/or hooves. One rear hoof appears to be compromised, but with the skin sloughing in this area, it is impossible to tell.
Wilbur is stronger and appears to be on the mend, although it is obvious that he has a long and difficult recovery period ahead of him. At this point we are simply providing maintenance therapy, hydrating him well and forcing exercise to the maximum he will tolerate. We will maintain him on Tucoprim prophylactically as a guard against infection while his skin is still open in numerous places. Keeping flies and, of course, maggots out of his various open lesions has been a difficult task, but a large dose of IM Dectomax seems to have helped with maggot population control. An occasional spraying of Wilbur and his bedding with Permectrin II seems to have aided in fly and maggot control.
The vet contends that Wilbur contracted some sort of unspecified viral vasculitis. Serology neither confirmed nor denied this diagnosis. We have also considered the possibility of snakebite but were unable to find any fang marks, puncture wounds or evidence of evenomation. No other pigs in Wilbur’s herd (or elsewhere on the sanctuary) are ill. We have not done a titer for Erysipelas as we are not sure what a good benchmark would be for a potbellied pig anyway.
The pictures included show the skin sloughing and attendant necrosis when they were at their worst (6/1/00 to 6/5/00). While he is still sloughing in some areas, the majority of his skin has now sloughed and has been replaced with mottled and non-pigmented healthy skin.
Update: 7/2000. Wilbur continues to improve steadily. All skin has been sloughed and replaced with new skin. He lost 75% of his tail in early July. Both rear feet have good circulation and he is walking with almost no difficulty although he remains a bit unsteady in the rear end. He is eating normal food ration with only some water added since he lost most of his “lips” and the replacement skin is still very tender. He gets up in the morning and grazes in the yard until breakfast and then goes to sleep under
his favorite bush. He gets up several times during the day and grazes, drinks, etc….and in the evening after dinner he goes back in the quarantine pen and goes to bed. He is no longer on any meds and we are just watching and encouraging him to exercise as much as he is able. The vet looked at him today and was amazed at his progress. He still has a few open spots, mostly from where he has rubbed his new skin because it itches him. Plus some of his huge necrotic holes are healing slowly and are still scabbing, but other than that he looks and acts good.