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FEEDING GUIDELINES 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 property.

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 shine.

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 day.

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 others.)

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 prescribed.

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.

FEEDING GUIDELINES 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 hungry.

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.

Several factors that determine the correct amount to feed are:

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

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

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

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 inappropriate.


When The Duchess Fund (http://www.duchessfund.org) 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 patient.

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!

Duchess Fund Library Topics
General Care  | Diseases | Nutrition | Training | You and The Vet


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