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Susan Armstrong

by: Susan Armstrong

by: Bruce
Lawhorn, DVM, MS
  by: Susan Armstrong

I recently
received an email regarding a rescue pig named
Lucy who is extremely obese. Her new owner
requested advice on a sound dieting program. Here
is my reply to her.

I have had
several pigs that have successfully dieted with
advice from Dr. Wilbers, my veterinarian. Spike,
my most known achievement, lost half of his body
weight. So has Ziggy, Miss Mini, Penny, Opal,
etc. I feed just pig food, no veggies, no
fruit…just pig food (Champion Potbellied Pig
Food). Gradually I take the pig down to only 4
oz. of food with warm water. For a treat and for
the health of their urinary tract, I give
Gatorade or orange juice in water to encourage
water consumption. During the summer, I will
reduce the pigs daily intake to as little as 1/4
cup once a day and make them go for a walk and
graze for any additional food.

The obese
pigs I have worked with seem to follow a pattern
while they are dieting. First they come here very
depressed, barely moving at all. All of them have
been blind from fat and some have been hard of
hearing. The fact they can’t and don’t hear so
well makes them cranky or whine with fear. The
cranky ones jump forward while barking, trying to
scare you, and if they made contact they could
bite! For the most part, I just ignore them and
the behavior subsides.

It takes
about a month for them to start feeling
comfortable and they stop being cranky after
about a week. Short walks around the barn common
area then they graduate to just outside the barn
door and eventually….usually the day they get
their site back…they go for a walk around the

All along
they have been losing some weight but it really
becomes recognizable when they start to exercise.
Intact female pigs are highly motivated during
their cycle. Their true personality starts to

I find
that the weight comes off from the rear first.
The hardest place to lose the weight is the jowls
and around the eyes. Once the weight is off it
seems to stay off. I then feed them the same as
the others which is approximately two cups per

It has
been taking 9 months to complete the diet. In
Spike’s case, I have been feeding him extra. He
started to lose weight and he didn’t seem to stop
so I actually think Spike is a little
underweight, which is good because we want to do
eye surgery on Spike so he can see better and he
is at less risk when he is on the thin side. By
the way, Spike is about 5 years old.

I think we
are working with two issues, one being the health
hazard of obesity and the other is the mental
well being of the pig. We must also consider the
general comfort – warm, not threatened, safe and
a consistent routine. Mental health is very
important. Daily encouragement is needed. First
you act like a sergeant. "OK let’s get up
and get going. Time to eat and exercise." At
the same time you give belly rubs and messages
and tell them how important they are, etc. Spike
needed to be told every day that he wasn’t going
to give up and it wasn’t acceptable. He wasn’t
alone and someday he was going to see again.
(Note: I felt Spike wanted to die, so did

I have
never had one that walks on their knees but I
have heard of a couple. I wonder if that is a
sign of arthritis. A diagnosis from a vet would
be indicated and appropriate medication

I wouldn’t
worry too much about Lucy not leaving her stall
very much. Pigs have a tendency to sleep away the
bad winter weather. Lucy is burning calories by
trying to stay warm so it just helps the diet
along very nicely.

I hope
these few lines encourage you to keep up the good
work you are doing for Lucy.

by: Susan Armstrong

Weight control
instead of weight gain is the focus when feeding
pet pigs. Because pigs love to eat, they are
prone to becoming overweight. It is our job as
pet pig owners to control our pig’s food intake
providing the correct diet as well as amount fed.
Food consumption must be limited, not free fed.
Remember, appetite is NOT a reason to feed your
pig. Pigs enjoy eating even when they are not

It is
recommended that your miniature pet pig eat a
ration made specifically to meet a mini pig’s
nutritional needs. A maintenance ration for a pig
over five months old should be no more than 12%
to 14% protein.

Store feed
in an air tight container to keep it fresh, away
from moisture and other contaminates. Always keep
the food out of piggy’s reach!

Feed your
pig according to her own need.. Increase or
decrease to control the weight of your pig.
Always offer fresh, clean water before feeding.

factors that determine the correct amount to feed

  • the
    pigs age
  • the
    pigs individual metabolic rate
  • the
    pigs level of activity and exercise
  • the
    pigs current body condition

should be added based on individual needs and
recommendations from your veterinarian, animal
nutrition specialists or potbellied pig

The only
acceptable foods for your pig are in the grain,
vegetable or fruit categories, preferred fed

Do not
feed: Salt, sugar, cat/dog food,
meat/poultry/fish products, milk products, cooked left-overs or canned foods. NEVER feed your pig
chocolate and make yourself aware of plants that
are poisonous to your pig.

A well
balanced diet will promote a happy, healthy long
life for your pig. Treats are not necessary for a
well balanced diet. A pet pig who "gets her
way" with food is more likely to misbehave,
so – No Free Food! Treats should be used only
occasionally to reinforce good behavior or when
trick training and never given when behavior is




When The Duchess Fund
( asked me if I would write an
article about obesity in potbellied pigs (and the problems
associated with obesity) I promptly responded.

Any feeding strategy
for the pbp should furnish adequate nutrition by a balanced
ration and prevent excess weight gain. Although sizes and
weights of mature pbps may vary greatly, generally speaking,
the heaviest mature weight for even the largest frame pbp of
today should not exceed about 125-150 pounds. Of course, there
are many small frame pbps today compared to a decade ago. The
feeding goal is the same no matter what the frame size. So
what is obese? When a pbp is so heavy that walking is
difficult, the eyelids are forced closed by facial fat and the
tailhead is buried in its behind, this is obvious obesity. I
generally think that an additional 25 pounds is considered
overweight or fat. Greater than this is obesity. I have seen
some pbps that are 125-150 pounds heavier than their frame
size will allow. This is insane obesity. It is a miracle that
these pbps can walk around, and many can’t.

It is too late for the
owner to be sorry for all the medical problems their obese pbp
has suffered once an illness crisis arises. The most skilled
pbp veterinarian may not be able to remedy the situation. Why
is this?

Other than the animal
description and problem history, making a diagnosis in the
sick, obese pbp is extremely challenging. The physical exam,
which includes temperature, pulse and respiration is probably
the easiest to evaluate but the slightest exertion increases
the temperature and causes the pulse and respiration to race
due to the excessive weight burden.

Evaluating the color of
the mucus membranes, capillary fill-time and pupillary
response are more difficult because access to the oral cavity
and orbit is reduced. The so-called entropion seen in obese
pbps should be re-evaluated after weight loss which may make
the condition disappear.

Collection of body
fluids for diagnostic tests is even more difficult. This
includes blood sampling and intravenous therapy. Cut downs
through the skin to access veins may have to be performed.
Even routine blood draws from the cranial vena cava (lower
neck area) are challenging since all the anatomic landmarks
are obscured by fat deposits.

Values for routine
serum enzymes and complete blood counts require good blood
sample quality and may be distorted as the degree of
difficulty in obtaining samples increases. For example, pig
blood rapidly clots and is easily hemolyzed (red blood cells
easily ruptured). Hence, these diagnostic tests become harder
to interpret.

Urine collection in the
obese male is difficult because the abdomen drags the ground.
Midstream catch samples of urine from the female is somewhat
easier but woe unto the veterinarian if catheterization of the
urethra is necessary. An endoscope (which many veterinarians
do not have easy access to) is required to visualize the
urethral recess since the massive amount of fat collapses all
normal anatomic structures and makes blind passage of a
catheter difficult to impossible.

If all this were not
enough, ultrasound and radiographs are hindered by the extreme
thickness of the body walls.

Any type of anesthesia
puts the obese potbellied pig at high risk due to its inherent
small chest and lung capacity. Many veterinarians use face
masks to induce and maintain gas anesthesia because pigs in
general are hard to intubate and irritation from repeated
attempts at intubation may cause throat swelling and reduced
air movement after surgery. The time required to situate an
endotrachael tube into an obese pbp is increased due to
reduced visibility from compression of the oral cavity by fat.
An oral speculum and endoscope may even be necessary.

Obese pbps are also at
higher risk for fatal post surgical complications such as
heart, kidney or multi-organ failure. Veterinarians do not
know all the reasons for this higher risk, but a leaner pbp
would be much less of an anesthetic risk. Embolism and death
has occurred post surgically from orthopedic procedures in the
normal weight pbp: the risk may be higher for the obese

Both kidney failure, a
common cause of death in geriatric pbps, and lameness are
probably accelerated by obesity.

So you see, these are
many, many medical reasons to keep your pig fit and trim!


Fund Library Topics
| Diseases | Nutrition | Training | You
and The Vet


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