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You And The Vet
Response to THE VET-YOUR PIG’S LIFELINE by: Bruce Lawhorn, DVM,MS
Response to THE VET-YOUR PIG’S LIFELINE by: Valarie Tynes, DVM
Part II–From the Veterinarian’s Perspective by: Dr. Ross Cowart, DVM
by: Chris Christensen

The most difficult part of being a pig parent is when it is time to say goodbye. The loss subsequent to that is just as difficult and even more challenging. Whether your pig suffered a lingering illness or went suddenly is irrelevant to the final outcome, pain and grief you will experience. Maybe if we give some thought to this tragic process ahead of time and consider options, it may make this a little less stressful if you have a plan in place.

Burial Or Cremation?
If you want to tuck your porcine pet in a blanket and lay him or her in a casket to be buried, your choices are to bury him at a pet cemetery (where they probably have caskets for you to choose from) or you can bury your loved one at your home (but check local and state laws first!!). You should check with the pet cemetery to see if their largest casket will accommodate your pet. If not, a custom built casket may be needed so you will want to find out the time factor involved of having one custom built. You may want a tombstone (if they are allowed at the cemetery). Locating a pet cemetery and checking them out ahead of time will be a blessing to you when the time comes.

If you choose to bury your pig at your home, consideration should be given about the future possibility of a residence change and how you would emotionally handle leaving your pet behind. Again, give thought to the size of the casket needed (if you choose to use one), and check local and state laws first.

If you decide on cremation, you have two choices. A "Communal Cremation" or a "Private Cremation". A private cremation costs more because your pet is cremated alone with no other animals. In the communal cremation, a number of animals are cremated at the same time and when you get the ashes, you have no way of knowing what part of those ashes are your pet’s and what percentage are from other animals. The Communal Cremation is the least expensive method of disposition. Once you get the ashes you can place them in an urn and keep in your home or you may wish to scatter the ashes at a favorite spot (check local and state laws if not done on your own property). You may wish to put some of the ashes in an urn and scatter the rest. If you choose to place them in an urn, there are different sizes of urns for different sizes of pets. A 50 lb. potbellied pig will require an urn with measurements approximately 5" X 6" X 4". This should be a general guideline only. You crematory facility will be able to assist you in many details such as this.

Transporting your pet for cremation or burial may not be possible either physically or emotionally. Check with the crematory or pet cemetery and see if they have a pick up service in your area and what the weight limit is. You may wish to phone some large animal veterinarians and find out if they would provide this service, however, keep in mind that the veterinarian may be tied up with other animal emergencies at your time of need. Your local animal shelters may also be able to advise you on your transportation needs. A close friend could also be a viable option for the transportation duty. Giving all of this thought and planning ahead will save you a lot of work and stress later.

Depending on your beliefs you might want to consider having a memorial service held in your pet’s memory. You could get guidance from your pastor or minister and perhaps have him or her assist.

These are personal choices that you will have to make sooner or later. It is much more convenient and less stressful if you make them sooner to relieve you of having to make these decisions at the time of your pet’s passing. Have the phone numbers ready and in a convenient location.

Regardless of your choices for the departed, serious consideration should be given regarding a necropsy (like autopsy in humans). We are entering into the geriatric generation of potbellied pigs and learning as we go. We have a lot to learn about our seniors and experience is going to be invaluable. The most potent vehicle we have to learn from is the necropsy. The price of this varies but some are as low as $50.00. A "cosmetic" necropsy is also available should you want to place your pet in a casket for burial. A midline incision is made and sewn back up. Depending on your pig’s medical condition, lab and pathology work may be indicated. Your vet can advise you on these issues as well as approximate costs. Once your pet has left you, there is nothing that can reverse that¼¼.the body is finished doing its job and it’s now time for us to do ours and find out what caused or contributed to the death. Once we have more of these answers we will be in a better position to extend and enhance the lives of pet pigs. This will take time and many necropsies. Please contact the Duchess Fund for guidance and veterinarian referral, if needed, as well as to submit your pet’s records and necropsy for the online database.

If you find that you just cannot bring yourself to have a necropsy done, don’t feel guilty¼¼.you will have enough to cope with. This is a personal choice and everyone deals with the loss of their pet a little differently and this is one of those differences. We have found from experience that most pet pig owners want to find out what went wrong (via necropsy) but there are some that just cannot do it for personal beliefs or other emotional issues.

There are many pet loss books and organizations. Check your local yellow pages and/or search the internet. A few websites are listed at the end of this article that you may find comforting and informing. Also you can obtain some one-on-one counseling through a pet loss organization if you are having a particularly difficult time coping with your loss and grief. Joining a group to talk this situation through and obtain understanding and support may prove more beneficial to you than you can imagine. Remember that you are not alone and each day will get a little easier. If you continue to have a really difficult time it may be wise to discuss your feelings with your physician to see if an anti-depressant drug would be helpful for a period of time (serotonin levels can drop during the grieving process).

The stages following your pets death are as follows:

The First State: Denial

Many pet owners respond with denial learning of a pet’s terminal illness or sudden death. This helps cope with the sharp emotional shock.

The Second Stage: Bargaining

Some people, when faced with impending death, may "bargain" offering some condition if their pet is spared.

The Third Stage: Anger

A classic anger response would be questioning the veterinarian with questions such as "What happened? I thought your treatment was the cure?" Or "You didn’t care about my pet". These reactions may help relieve immediate frustrations (at the expense of someone else). Anger can also turn inward emerging as guilt resulting in "if only"…."If only I had taken her to the vet sooner." "If only I had come home sooner" and so on.

The Fourth Stage: Grief

This is true sadness. The pet along with the guilt and anger is gone and the emptiness remains. Now is when support is really needed. This pain is very real and your loss is deep and heavy.

The Final Stage – Resolution

As time passes, the sadness and emptiness evolves into memories of the past. Often times part of the remedy is obtaining a new pet. Your dearly beloved is not being replaced but your new pet can fill a very deep void in your heart.

Veterinary teaching institutions, in studying the human-companion animal bond, are increasing their efforts to help pet owners cope with lingering grief. Some of the teaching institutions have social workers who are specially trained to counsel pet owners. Among the most well known programs are those at the following:

The Animal Medical Center, New York City, 212-838-8100, The University of Pennsylvania, School of Veterinary Medicine, 215-898-4529, University of California, School of Veterinary Medicine, 916-752-7418, University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine, 612-624-4747, Colorado State University, College of Veterinary Medicine, 303-221-4535, Washington State University, College of Veterinary Medicine, 509-335-1297, University of Florida, College of Veterinary Medicine 904-392-4700 X 4080.

Some helpful websites:

International Association of Pet Cemeteries


How Do You Mend A Broken Heart?


Reflections Pet Urns


Pet Loss Grief Support Website

We wish you well when its your pets time to cross over. If we can help, please contact us.

The scared helpless feeling we get when our pig is sick is a feeling not soon forgotten. If we have not developed a good working relationship with a veterinarian and our pig is ill, it’s even worse. Then we have a pig in a poke.

Under the best of circumstances, our pig becomes ill or develops a medical problem and we take her to a veterinarian. We explain the problem, the onset, if we know, and describe the present deviation from normal behavior effect. We list symptoms, ascertain the duration of such and give an accounting of whatever efforts we, as pet owners, have made to correct the problem.

The veterinarian examines the pig. We, as pig owners, are not just paying the veterinarian to look at our pig and listen to our description of the problem. Sometimes the owner’s interpretation of the problem has nothing to do with the present medical situation.

Diagnosing is an art. Education, experience, common sense, extrapolation and continuous exposure to pigs themselves all contribute to overall knowledge of pigs and the medical problems they encounter. All the knowledge in the world won’t help diagnose a medical problem in a pig if the information is incorrectly interpreted.

Medical articles describing medical syndromes in pigs are basically similar. Etiology and onset of symptoms are described, symptoms are listed, appropriate diagnostic tests are run to determine course of action, treatment is begun and progress, or lack thereof, is carefully monitored and documented. What makes the difference is intuitive interpretation along the way, not only from the standpoint of diagnosis, but response to treatment as well. Understanding the "whole picture" enables the veterinarian to approach the medical problem from different directions simultaneously. Many possible causes can be rapidly eliminated and treatment can focus on the primary problem in a more timely manner. The safety and medical welfare of the pig can remain in tact. We pig owners have a lot of answers, but veterinarians pose the right questions!

Determining whether or not a pig is in a medical crisis is difficult unless the pig is standing in front of the veterinarian. Assessing the medical condition of a pig is a judgment call, based on that vet’s level of experience, medical knowledge, intuitiveness and appropriate interpretation. This art is what we pay our veterinarians for.

It is a challenge at best for a vet to get enough usable information from the pig owner talking face to face, to clarify a medical problem. The vet relies heavily on a "hands-on" examination of the pig. Background history is helpful but often not as important initially as the vet’s own observations. (For example: a pig hit by a car is brought in comatose. Does it really matter how fast the car was going?) Background information can be helpful, but nothing can replace the immediacy of a "hands-on" examination along with a personal assessment of the present condition of that pig.

We try to educate ourselves in order to help our own pigs. We try to learn by talking to each other so we can help each other’s pigs. We sometimes spend hours or even days discussing medical problems in each other’s pigs, searching for solutions. There is a time and a place for everything. Those pigs in trouble may not have hours or days before they face an emergency. We might better spend that time and energy in locating veterinarians. Sometimes valuable time is lost and the pig in jeopardy would be better served in the hands of a professional.

It is to our veterinarians that we should go when a serious medical problem arises with our pigs. It is our veterinarian with whom we should be cultivating an in-depth working relationship. We need to begin when our pigs are healthy – not wait until we are faced with a crisis. We can help our vets by developing our own skills so that when we look at our pigs we really see, and when we listen to our pigs we really hear. We need to work with and train our pigs so they are more manageable during times of duress or medical crisis.

Developing and cultivating a mutually respectful relationship with our veterinarians means that much less time is lost getting our pigs medical attention when needed. This means less suffering for the pig and a greater chance of a positive outcome due to timely appropriate medical intervention. Otherwise, we are doing a disservice to ourselves, our veterinarians, and most of all, our pigs.
Response to : THE VET-YOUR PIGS LIFELINE by: Bruce Lawhorn, DVM, MS Associate Professor & Extension Swine Veterinarian

The following information is needed by the veterinarian when presented with an ill potbellied pig: 1) Signalment: Sex, intact/neutered, age, color, weight 2) History: Diet, appetite, thirst, and availability of water. Elimination – regularity and consistency of stools and urine appearance Vomiting Changes in routine that may have been stressful (pbp’s are creatures of habit) Housing (including any access to toxic plants) Vaccinations & worming (dates and names of products used).

The next step is physical examination, which has two parts: Part one which is observing the pig at a distance when walking around and with as little stress as possible (unless the pig is recumbent or comatose) and, Part two, the hands-on-exam for rectal temperature, respiratory rate, and clinical appearance (gum color, injuries, hydration, etc. Note: eyes sunk in means severe dehydration).

The difficulty with potbellied pigs is they are often totally unmanageable by any physical restraint and have to be tranquilized for the ands-on-exam. After sedation, physical exam is possible but parameters such as temperature and respiration are altered and may not be useful for helping make the diagnosis. The advantage of tranquilization is that blood samples, fecal samples, and urine samples for various laboratory tests are easier to collect and these may be very helpful in arriving at a diagnosis. Bringing a mid-stream urine sample in a clean or sterile container and a fecal sample in a sealed baggy (refrigerate if either sample is kept overnight) to the veterinarian is desirable and may allow initial testing and diagnostic information before the veterinarian collects samples.

The aforementioned diagnostic process is much easier for the owner, pig and veterinarian if the following tasks have been accomplished: (1) The potbellied pig is used to or even enjoys being transported (pigs may vomit from motion sickness which may have nothing to do with illness – best for pig to travel on empty stomach) (2) The pig has already been examined by a veterinarian and a good veterinary-client-patient relationship has been established so subsequent physical examination is more tolerable (3) Pig records are in the custody of the client’s veterinarian plus the owner has kept their own record of what has been done previously (4) The pig has been trained (leash training in harness, etc.) And handled often (brushed, groomed, held) so handling by others is less stressful.

As a swine consultant to veterinarians who are seeing potbellied pigs and their clients, it is more time- efficient for all involved if every procedure outlined above has been accomplished and all pertinent information about signalment, history, presenting clinical signs, physical exam, results of laboratory tests and any response to preliminary treatment initiated is provided. It is most time-efficient if all of this information is sent by fax (979-862-3795) or E-mail: Blawhorn@cvm.tamu.edu at the same time a request for consultation is received.

Bruce Lawhorn, DVM, MS Associate Professor & Extension Swine Veterinarian College of Veterinary Medicine Room #2 Texas A&M University College Station, Texas 77843-2487
Response to : THE VET-YOUR PIGS LIFELINE by: Valarie V. Tynes, DVM

There are a variety of things that any pet owner can do in order to make their veterinarian’s job a little easier. Remember, helping the veterinarian means helping you and your pet because that is what the vet’s goal is, "to help you and your pet." Many veterinarians dislike seeing potbellied pigs because they view them as too difficult to handle. This problem could be avoided by early training and socialization of the pet pig. In this respect, my recommendations are the same as they would be for any pet. Can you blame an animal for being afraid to get in the car, if the only time they ever get in the car is to go to the vet? All pets should be handled frequently, in a positive, non-threatening manner and rewarded for being calm. They should then be handled by a variety of people and exposed to a variety of novel places and situations. It should go without saying that your pig should be taught to wear a harness and walk on a leash. With patience, a pig of any age can learn this.

Pet owners should develop a relationship with a veterinarian as soon as they can after acquiring a new pet, especially if that pet is a novel one. When facing a life threatening emergency, that is no time to find out that your regular veterinarian doesn’t see potbellied pigs! In my experience, potbellied pigs that receive good, preventive health care rarely have emergency situations. By consulting with your veterinarian, you can be sure that your pig is receiving the vaccinations, etc that are important for the area you are living in.

If you are fortunate enough to find a veterinarian who is eager and willing to see your potbellied pig but who admits he or she knows little, never fear! In spite of what many people say, there is an increasingly large amount of information available in veterinary texts and journals about potbellied pigs. There are at least three regularly published journals that I know of, that cover nothing but exotic animal care. These are good sources for potbellied pig information. Most major veterinary conferences continue to offer some potbellied pig seminars. Send your veterinarian to the NAPPA website for more information. Soon a list of these books and journals will be added to the website!

When acquiring a new pet be sure to find out EXACTLY what vaccinations it has had and WHEN. You should also find out about any treatments for parasites that have been given and when they were given. When you go to your veterinarian for the first time, bring that information with you. Any time you change veterinarians, get copies of your records to take to the next veterinarian. Good record keeping, insures that no part of your pig’s health care is overlooked and that your money is not wasted by repeating tests, treatments or vaccinations unnecessarily.

Last but not least, BE OBSERVANT! An important part of making a diagnosis is getting a good history. The veterinarian needs to know what your pig eats, when it ate last, when it last eliminated, and if it is vomiting or having abnormal stools. All pet owners should be able to answer these questions. It really can mean the difference between life and death!!!

Obesity and the health problems that occur secondary to it are the most common things I see threatening the health of potbellied pigs of all ages. Obesity contributes to strain on bones and joints that are often already weak due to poor confirmation. It also puts strain on the already small heart and lung capacity of the potbellied pig. Obesity seems to lead to a very poor quality of life where the pig is caught in a vicious cycle… it doesn’t want to get up and move around because it is so uncomfortable and the less it exercises, the more overweight and unhealthy it becomes. The pig leading this sedentary lifestyle does not spend it’s time foraging and interacting with others as it probably would in the wild, possibly leading to some of the behavior problems we see in pet pigs.

Pet owners should concentrate on preventing obesity in their pets. Once a potbellied pig is overweight, weight loss is extremely difficult and will require a great deal of effort and commitment on the owner’s part. Another problem frequently encountered in veterinary practice can occur with any pet, and that is simple ignorance on the part of the owner. Too many people acquire pets, especially novel or exotic pets without first finding out what that animal’s husbandry and nutritional needs are. The majority of the time, this results in an unhappy pet owner and a weak or non-existent bond with their pet. Pets belonging to these owners are the ones I see most often that are ill or neglected and that the owner is seeking to re-home. You can avoid these problems by doing your homework BEFORE purchasing a new pet, not afterwards!
Part II–From the Veterinarian’s Perspective by: Dr. Ross Cowart, DVM, University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri

What can potbellied pig owner’s do to make their vet’s job easier when it comes to treating their pets?

1. Be observant. While Jenny’s point that owners may misinterpret their pig’s problem is occasionally true, we veterinarians also depend greatly on an owner’s description of a problem to get us headed in the right direction. You might think of the veterinarian’s examination of a pig as a detailed "snapshot" of the pig’s condition at a single point in time. The owner’s observations are more like a "movie" taken over a longer period of time. Both perspectives are important to get a complete picture of a pig’s condition. Try to be as objective as possible when responding to the vet. Saying "My pig normally eats 2 cups of feed X each day, however, for the past 2 days, she has only eaten half a cup" conveys more useful information than "I’m worried that my pig is not eating as much as she should." Pay attention to your pig’s normal eating, drinking, elimination, and play habits so that you can detect a departure from normal.

2. Be prompt. Fortunately, most departures from normal are minor and self-correcting. Animals have been designed with a great capacity for responding, adapting, and healing themselves when problems arise. However, when a problem arises that needs medical intervention, earlier is almost always better than later. A good example would be a case of pneumonia which usually responds well and completely to antibiotic treatment early in the disease but may respond poorly and result in permanent lung damage if treatment is delayed. As a veterinarian, I would rather be "bothered" by a minor problem that does not need treatment than to be presented with an animal that I cannot help because it is too late. Granted, your vet is probably busy and has more animals to care for than just yours, but open communication with your vet should help you develop a sense of when to call for help.

3. Be confident. I especially appreciate Jenny’s suggestion that you develop a working relationship with a vet before a crisis arises. You may need to "shop around" and find the vet that is interested and knowledgeable, and (most importantly) that you can relate to in a positive way. A medical crisis is stressful to both pig and owner and it is helpful for both owner and vet to have a relationship built on trust and confidence. Veterinarians are human and as such are imperfect, but, almost without exception, we desire the best for an owner and his/her animals. If we sense that an owner does not believe that of us, it makes our job much more stressful and difficult. While we vets cannot guarantee that all medical problems will have the desired outcome, it is much more satisfying when we all know that we have partnered together to do the best we can for the pigs.



Dr. Wilbers says knowing when to contact a vet for your pig is important. He has listed some things to consider when deciding whether or not to make that call. He warns, however, that time can be critical, so as a general rule, when in doubt, go ahead and telephone your vet.


  • Persistent vomiting for more than 24 hours (especially if yellow)
  • Off feed for more than 24 hours
  • A temperature of more than 105 degrees
  • Diarrhea for more than 24 hours
  • Constipation for more than 48 hours
  • Lying down for more than 8 hours
  • Unwillingness to rise
  • Painful abdomen
  • Persistent bleeding
  • Blood in stool
  • Seen eating something potentially poisonous or obstructive
  • Sudden behavioral changes
  • Raised areas on skin
  • Rapid breathing
  • Lameness

Aside from this list, many other possibility exist and the use of common sense is in order.


Just as you have a first aid kit for your family, you should have a medical kit for potbellied pig emergencies. Essential items for your kit include:

Thermometer: A rectal thermometer designed for animals is the appropriate type to use. One can be obtained though your veterinarian or a vet supply house. Tie a string on the end to ensure that the thermometer does not get lost inside your unsuspecting pig. You will need Vaseline as well for easy insertion. A normal temperature for a potbellied pig is between 102 and 103 F. Should your pig go off feed or become obviously ill, it’s good to take her temperature before consulting with your vet.

Topical Antibiotic: For the occasional scratch, cut or abrasion a topical antibiotic is indicated. My personal preference is a dry powder type called KV Wound Powder. This is an antibacterial containing nitrofurazone. It is easy to apply and really adheres to the wound. I have quick healing results with the use of this product. KV wound Powder is distributed by Ken Vet out of Ashland, Ohio and should be available through your vet or vet supply house. Also effective is Bacitracin or other name brand antibiotic ointments you can get at your local drug store.

Hydrogen Peroxide: You will be glad you have peroxide if you need to clean out a wound before applying an ointment. Should your vet advise you to induce vomiting because of suspected poisoning, hydrogen peroxide given orally to your pig is quite effective. Keep both your vet’s phone number and Animal Poison Control numbers by the phone. Poison Control: 900-680-0000 ($30.00) or 800-548-2423 ($30.00)

Syringes: In order to administer hydrogen peroxide or oral medications, you will find a syringe most useful. Keep a few sizes on hand. I find 3 cc, 6 cc and 12 cc syringes most adaptable to different situations where using a syringe is indicated.

Rehydration Agent: Should your pig become dehydrated you need to have some electrolytes on hand. Gatorade is very accessible and effective, or you may wish to buy something like Pedialite, a product for human babies.

Mineral Oil: Should your pig become constipated, add one-quarter cup of mineral oil to your pigs food at each meal. Generally, within a day or two your pig will be back to normal.

Keep your emergency pig supplies in a small plastic tool box marked appropriately. Keep this box in the same place always.


What every pet owner hates and every pig and pig owner hates even more is going to the vet. First understand that I am not a veterinarian and I am writing this from the standpoint of a pig owner with a lot of experience with his own pigs and with many rescue pigs. Through the rescue I also have a fairly close relationship with many veterinarians and sanctuaries and with club members and their experiences. I also have dealings with clubs and breeders throughout the country and their veterinary experiences.

Anyway, the general rule is that once a year your pig should see a veterinarian for a general exam and perhaps shots, hoof and tusk trimming, and teeth, ear and eye cleaning. How much is needed and how it is accomplished varies from pig to pig, vet to vet and owner to owner. There are many questions about vet care. Some of them are: Is your vet mobile (comes to your home) or office based (you go to them)? Does your vet use anesthetics (Isoflurane gas or injectable anesthetics), or do they restrain the pig (or do you restrain the pig)? Is your pig harness trained? Does your pig travel well? Does it ride in a vehicle uncrated or in a crate? Do you have a crate? Can you get your pig in a crate? Will the police come if you try and put your pig in a crate? What dangers could a visit with the vet pose to your pig? What dangers will not going to the vet pose to your pig?

Mobile Vets

The first question is, do you have a mobile vet in your area who knows about potbellied pigs and is willing to come to your home? If the answer is yes, does this vet have a portable Isoflurane unit? This may or may not be necessary, but for some procedures it is very important. What procedures can a mobile vet perform? Depends on the vet, the size, age and health of your pig and possibly on your ability to help with the procedures. First, be aware that if this animal is a dearly beloved member of the family, you are probably going to be uncomfortable with your pig being forcefully restrained for these procedures.

Pigs are Prey Animals

When they are grabbed and restrained forcefully, a part of their mind tells them that this is the end. What is the present advice to people being victimized by rapists or attackers … SCREAM AND FIGHT. That is what your pig is going to do when you try to force it to do something. Most of us have learned to talk to our pigs, bribe our pigs or somehow convince our pigs that what we want is really their idea. Some owners have so much trust built up with their pigs that hoof trimming, shots and even tusk trimming are not a problem. This is unusual, but some pigs cooperate with the procedures. Most pigs don’t.

If it is preferred to not use anesthetics and to work on the pig with it conscious, you must realize that forcefully restraining one of these animals can, in extreme cases, be fatal to the animal. It is even recommended not to do this with older animals. Restraining the animal and holding it should be done cleanly and forcefully. Grab the animal and lift its front legs off the ground by holding it under its front legs in the arm pit area, roll it onto its butt and hold it securely between your legs (you can sit on a SOLID chair, sofa or bench if you wish). Having a pig harness on the animal can help you maintain control, but chasing the pig around for 20 minutes or having it escape because you relaxed your hold to scratch your nose if going to just add to the stress for everyone. If you cannot help your vet with this, either get an experienced vet who can do it on their own (rare, but they exist) or opt for a vet with a portable Isoflurane unit (also rare). My wife and I have on occasion tried to help people hold their own pig to trim hooves only to have the owner suddenly let go of the pig because they couldn’t stand to hear it scream. The bigger and less social the pig, the harder this job becomes.

Also be aware that if an emergency occurs during these procedures a mobile vet will probably be limited in lifesaving procedures they can perform in your home as compared to a fully equipped veterinary office or an animal hospital.

If it is necessary to use anesthetic on your pig so that it will be asleep during the procedures, what type of anesthetic will be used? Every knowledgeable pig association, group or owner that I have dealt with in the last 10 years have concluded that the safest anesthetic is Isoflurane gas. There is a mix of injectables that is considered fairly safe if used properly, but it is not recommended. The problem with Isoflurane gas is that the pig must be willing to be held and hold still while a mask is placed over its snout for 1 or 2 minutes while it breaths the gas and falls asleep. All of our pigs are comfortable with this procedure. In fact, Chuckles seems to like it a little too well. We think he may be becoming an Isoflurane addict. Just say, "No!" Chuckles.

Some vets prefer to give a pre-shot of injectable anesthetic so that it is easier to administer the Isoflurane. This is not necessarily recommended by pig owner groups, but may be required if your pig is not able to be easily controlled by you or the vet so that the mask can be used. (See the article in Part II by Dr. George.) A mobile vet with or without Isoflurane should be able to give shots, trim hooves and clean eyes and ears. It will be noisy and ear plugs are recommended.

Tusks are a more delicate problem. Cutting tusks with the pig awake is how we lost our first pig, T.S. Piggliot. Other members have also had bad experiences with this. The only recommendation I could give on this is to use an OB cutting wire (available at most vet supply/feed stores) and cover the back of the mouth area (with a cloth) to keep the cut tusk from being inhaled into the lung by the screaming pig. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO CUT THE TUSK CLOSE TO THE GUM LINE WITH BOLT CUTTERS. The danger of the tusk splitting is far too great. If tusks are not an issue with you and you merely wish to blunt the tip that protrudes from the mouth, cutters or a file of some type may be appropriate.

Transporting Your Pig

If you are unable to find a mobile vet, often the case in more urban areas, you may be lucky enough to find an experienced vet who will see your pet pig at their office. The next problem is getting the pig to the vet’s office. Some pigs will jump right into a vehicle. Others will walk up a ramp. Some will easily get into a crate. Some will wear a harness and leash, and some won’t do any of the above. If you get the animal to the vets in your car without having it confined to a crate, can you control it once you get there? We have found that having the pig in a crate is preferable, but others just walk their pig in on a leash. If your pig is not leash trained and you need to use a crate, but your pig is not crate trained, HELP!

Fighting a pig in to a crate is usually a disaster. Bribing a pig into a crate only works once, but giving the pig nowhere else to go but into the crate is usually quiet and calm. First, make sure you have a big enough crate. Then make sure you have a vehicle that will hold the crate. The "700" or "Giant" size crate will be too high for many SUV’s and covered pickups. Try it before you get the pig loaded. Then make sure you have enough strong backs to lift it. One of these large crates weighs about 50 lbs. Add a full grown potbellied pig at 100 to 150 lbs. or more and you have a 2 to 3 person project. (I made a special roller dolly and an 8′ ramp with a rope and pulley assembly so my wife and I can load our boys.)

How do you make a pig want to enter a crate? We have discovered a few ways. The big secret is to set it up right the first time and don’t fail. Pigs tend to go forward. They can’t see behind them. A little prodding with a pig board (a 2’X3′ piece of plywood or even a garbage can lid) lightly tapped (not taped) on their behinds and used to block their vision if they try to turn will do wonders to guide them. Some of our members can guide a pig with a cane by tapping its shoulders on one side and then the other. The main thing to do is keep the pig and you CALM. No chasing, running or yelling.

Get the pig and the crate in a pen or area of the back yard (or house) that is fairly small and uncluttered. In our yard we have a 15′ walkway about two feet wide with a short fence on one side and a shed the other. We put the crate at one end and guide a pig in the other end with the pig board. Once he starts down the path with the pig board blocking his view behind, there’s no where to go but into the crate. We have also used exercise pens to corral the pig, and then placed the crate at the pen opening and folded up the exercise pen making it smaller and smaller with the crate being the only place left to go.

I can remember when we first started working with pigs. Chasing them, yelling, wrestling them into crates, and it never worked. It stressed us, and it stressed the pig. Be sure you have enough help, but also make sure that the helpers understand that this is not a roundup in the old west. We’re not trying to scare the pig, just guide it. If you have a major size pig that won’t fit in any crate, my wife’s idea to a member that worked excellently was as follows. The evening before this pig had to go to U.C. Davis for some serious vet work, she had them fill the back of a covered pickup (a van would also work) with straw or hay. They then got some neighbors and friends to hold boards, and corrals on either side of the pig and move along as the pig was prodded towards a ramp (a sheet of 3/4" plywood with 2’X4′ reinforcing on the back) into the truck. The pig went into the truck, spent the night in the warm straw and left the next morning for U.C. Davis without ever even waking up.

Reprinted with permission from: California Potbellied Pig Association (CPPA) Pleasant Hill, CA 94523


This article could very well be titled: How to See More of Your Vet Than You Do Your Wife, Children and Friends.

The veterinary care of pigs at a sanctuary is radically different in virtually every way from the care of the "pet pig". Please note that I said "different", not better or worse…..just "different". Providing for the health and medical needs of a single (or even several) pet pigs at home is certainly a challenge for the owner. Just finding a vet who is both competent and willing to undertake the medical needs of the average pet pig can be a daunting challenge in and of itself. For those of you who are lucky enough to be able to take your pet pig to the vet’s office for routine health issues, life is truly good. If conditions are such that you must find a vet to come to your house to work on your pet pig, life can become much more complicated. Not only do few vets make "house calls", but there are only a limited number of procedures that can be done in the setting of the average pig owner’s home. Face it, most people don’t care to have their darling pig knocked out and castrated on the kitchen table. And even routine health chores such as hoof trimming, tusk work, etc…. can not only be stressful for the owner and the pig, but can often generate such a racket that the neighbors are calling the SWAT teams out because they are certain that mass murder is being committed in your home. To those of you who conscientiously see to the medical needs of your pet pig in a timely and competent manner, we doff our hats in respect. We know and understand how difficult and challenging it can be.

Those of us who care for large numbers of pigs face a unique set of challenges when it comes to the medical needs of the pigs entrusted to our care.

The most obvious difference is numbers. Sanctuaries typically house and care for between 20 and 300 pigs. The sheer volume of their medical needs can be overwhelming at times. Also keep in mind that many of the pigs that arrive at a sanctuary are injured, sick or suffering from years of neglect. Virtually every pig that arrives at a sanctuary will need some form of medical attention immediately. Some will obviously need more in-depth and more urgent care than others, but all will require at a minimum a veterinary check-up, vaccination, worming and probably hoof/tusk maintenance.

Individual pig owners typically have what is called a "closed herd". If you have one (or several pigs) that are healthy, not in contact with other pigs or a host of other animals and are maintained in a healthy state, the risk of contracting a contagious disease is minimal. Sanctuaries must constantly be concerned about the risk of infection every time a new animal arrives. Therefore, the conscientious sanctuary quarantines all newly arrived pigs for a minimum of 30 days before allowing the pig to come in contact with other pigs. While this is a prudent measure it can also be difficult since it requires special, separate housing and specialized care during the quarantine period. Not only must the new pigs be physically separated, but people in contact with the newly arrived animals must ensure that they wash their hands and sometimes even change clothes after working with the quarantined pig so they don’t carry anything contagious from the quarantine area to the general population.

Finding a vet: If you think finding a competent vet to care for your pet pig is a challenge, try finding one when you have 100 pigs or more. A sanctuary vet not only has to be knowledgeable with respect to treating potbellies; he/she has to be responsive to the needs of a sanctuary and available 24 hours a day on a moment’s notice. We have found that farm vets generally are better suited for a sanctuary’s needs than the typical small animal vet with a clinical practice and only an office to work out of. Farm vets, by the nature of their business, are mobile, available, willing to roll out of bed at 3 AM for an emergency and are, generally, very adept and working on animals under adverse field conditions. They are also very resourceful vets and not averse to rolling around in the mud or snow with a sick or injured pigs. A lot of "regular" vets just don’t have that mindset or ability to work well under the conditions that a lot of sanctuaries have to work under.

Most good sanctuary vets work "with" and not "for" the sanctuary directors. Most sanctuaries do not have the luxury of being able to call a vet for every little "piggy boo-boo". A sanctuary vet will expect the directors and caretakers to be able to perform many "routine" veterinary chores without having to call them. A good vet will also expect that the sanctuary directors will know when to call and when not to call. They expect that the directors can "triage" a pig and be able to tell the vet how urgent it is that he or she rearrange their schedule to see a sick or injured animal. They also expect that the sanctuary directors will be able to provide emergency care for a sick or injured pig until they can arrive. Finally, the vet will expect that the sanctuary directors will be competent at assisting with the treatment of the animal. When the vet arrives there is no standing around watching. Everyone pitches in to work on the animal(s) and that includes assisting with surgeries if needed. The sanctuary directors that "abuses" the vet by crying wolf too often will soon find themselves either broke or looking for a new vet in short order.

By the same token, most good sanctuary vets respect the knowledge that the directors have not only for the animals in their care, but for potbellies in general. The relationship between the vet and the directors is one of mutual respect and understanding and decisions are a consensus of what is best for the animal. With potbellies diagnosing a treating a sick or injured animal is very much an art rather than a science. With so little known about these unique little animals the vets often rely as much on the sanctuary directors’ knowledge as much as we rely on their medical knowledge. The result of this "team" approach to working on the pigs is a healthy and happy herd of pigs.

Things that sanctuaries are expected to be able to do without veterinary assistance:

-Routine vaccinations

-Wormings and general parasite control….including mange, hog lice, ticks, fleas, etc…..

-Routine hoof and tusk trimming. Most sanctuaries should be able to accomplish this on all but the largest and most disagreeable pigs where anesthesia is necessary to control and work on the animal

-Administer medicines…oral, injectable and topical. This includes being able to figure dosages based on weight and monitor the pig for side effects, allergic reactions, etc…..

-Have a sick or injured animal contained and ready for the vet to work on when he/she arrives. This includes having the ability to move a 400-pound pig from the woods or a pasture to a suitable location even if the pig is down and unable to move on its own.

-Remove sutures

-Give enemas

-Provide emergency medical care until the vet can arrive….this covers the gamut from stopping major blood loss, dealing with allergic reactions, inducing vomiting, providing respiratory assistance, treating for shock and assisting a sow with farrowing and neonatal support of piglets.

-Monitor and manage anesthetized pigs and provide post-operative follow-up care.

To adequately provide for the medical needs of large numbers of sanctuary pigs it is necessary that each pig be visually checked at least once, and preferably twice, each day. Additionally, each pig’s normal habits need to be well known to the directors so that anything out of the ordinary can be spotted quickly. With the potbellies, it is much better to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to dealing with medical emergencies. This is something that can only accomplished by spending a large amount of time with the animals, getting to know each animal and its habits on an intimate basis. Obviously one of the best times to do this is at feeding time. For most sanctuaries feeding time is much more than simply providing sustenance to each animal. It provides a good opportunity to physically check each animal closely and watch their behavior, eating habits and their physical condition. Sometimes subtle signs picked up at feeding time will provide information on one or more pigs that can be followed up after feeding or will highlight an animal that needs to be pulled from the herd or observed more closely during the day. It is an ongoing process that must be done both religiously and consistently. The sanctuary that short changes this process is asking for trouble in the long run and will probably have a disproportionate number of really sick pigs and a larger number of deaths than the sanctuary that dedicates the time and effort to ongoing monitoring of each animal entrusted to their care.

One final comment on the differences between the "pet pig" and the "sanctuary pig". Most of us who spend our lives working with these wonderful little animals have developed a great deal of awe and respect for their hardiness, recuperative powers and their ability to survive in their natural environment without a lot of "pampering". As a general comment, I don’t think that most sanctuary directors are as "panicky" about a lot of minor medical issues as is the average pet pig owner. Some of this obviously comes from years of experience in dealing with these pigs under less than ideal conditions. We use injectable anesthesia as a matter of routine because we have no other choice. The average pet pig owner is terrified of using anything but inhaled gas anesthesia on their pigs. This is a luxury that most sanctuaries can not afford, nor is it available as an option to us for 99% of the work we must do on the sanctuary animals.

In many cases we maintain a "wait and observe" attitude for many minor ailments and injuries that would send most pet pig owners screaming for a vet. Or we treat the animal ourselves, recognizing what we are capable of doing and what we are not. I would like to think that we, because of our knowledge and experience, have a better idea of when to call the vet and when to "wait and see" than most pet pig owners. This is said with absolutely no intention of denigrating any pet pig owner, but merely by way of explanation and observation of the many differences between the medical care of the pet pig versus the sanctuary pig.

We are proud to be associated with the Duchess Fund. We firmly believe in its goals and we urge all sanctuaries as well as individual pig owners to support it. As sanctuary directors we see more sick and injured pigs in the course of a month than many pet pig owners will ever see. We realize how little our vets and we truly know about these unique and wonderful little animals. It is only through the compilation of data from medical records and the results of necropsies that we will begin to build the data base we need to provide proper and adequate long term medical care, proper diets and healthy environments for the pigs. We need to know what makes them sick and what makes them well. We need to know what makes them live up to 20 years and what causes them to die prematurely. We need to know what is a healthy and unhealthy environment for a pig. There is so much we need to know and so little that we actually do know. The Duchess Fund provides a means to capture, catalog and share this information with pig lovers, pig owners and vets around the world.



I knew after I hung up the phone this was not going to be an easy appointment. This three year old spayed pig was on the top of my "most difficult to examine" list. She was very attached to her owner and at times even challenged the owner’s husband. So when the owner called about a "very small lump" she wanted me to examine, I took a deep breath and again accepted one of the many challenges I have encountered since I started treating pigs several years ago.

The lump was on the right rump area and protruded from the skin. It was no bigger than half a raisin. The owner had just noticed it a few days ago. Since I couldn’t get close enough to her to aspirate a small sample for the lab, the owner and I decided to watch it closely. If it continued to grow, we would surgically excise it.

The owner called me about a month later and stated that the lump had doubled in size and now would bleed at times. We both agreed it was time for it to come off and scheduled surgery immediately. Surgery went smoothly and while she was anesthetized I also removed one other suspicious skin lesion.

The lump was sent to the pathologist for a diagnosis. When the results came back as "Malignant Melanoma", I called the owner with a guarded prognosis. In dogs and people, malignant melanomas tend to spread to other parts of the body early on in the disease, invading vital organs.

I could find no references on malignant melanomas in potbellied pigs so I called my best pig information source, Dr. Bruce Lawhorn at Texas A&M University. He told me that there isn’t much information on melanomas in potbellied pigs. He suggested I warn the owners that if it did spread, it would do so in the next few months. On a positive note, he also told me that in the farm pig, some pigs will actually destroy the tumor. Their body will destroy all the pigment (melanin) and the pig will turn white. If this pig starts turning white, she will be curing herself.

I informed the owner of my discussion with Dr. Lawhorn and the waiting game began. Two months later, the owner called me with much joy to report the pig was getting white spots. The spots started mostly on her belly and spread over her sides. In the next few months her nose and feet turned white and continued to change.

There are probably are many potbellied pigs out there that are turning white for no apparent reason to the owner. Most likely they too are fighting a melanoma somewhere in their body. By understanding and investigating this phenomenon further, we will hopefully some day be able to apply it to people, perhaps saving someone’s life.

I graduated from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine in 1989. When I walked through those college doors, I thought I would never treat another pig. My interests were horses, cats and dogs, and all the little creatures such as hamsters and gerbils.

After about two years of practice, a man walked into my office one day pleading for my help. He had a potbellied pig named "Otis" and no one was willing to treat him. I told him I would be glad to help him but warned him my pig experience was very limited.

I started collecting every veterinary article I could find on potbellied pigs. I called numerous veterinary schools and asked for any information they had. I talked with experienced pig vets around the United States. Then the word got out. Seems "Otis" has many other pig friends that are looking for a vet. Then other vets found out I was be willing to help their client who just got a baby pig. I started getting calls from neighboring counties. Since many pigs don’t ride in the car, I started heading out to farms and houses to treat them. Finally, I ended up on the local TV station with one of my clients pigs, educating children.

So now, several years later, I am affectionately known as "The pig doctor"….even my mother sends me pig items such as pig ornaments for my Christmas tree. To help pig owners new to the area, I included a picture of one of my pig clients in my yellow page ad. Although, at times the work has been tiring and out in some of the worst areas and weather, when I am old and retired, you can bet that my best vet stories will involve a potbellied pig!

I met my husband in vet school and after each having several jobs we now have a hospital of our own. After work I continue my passion for horses, training my two show horses daily and competing in dressage and jumping.

Although born in Ohio, I spent most of my childhood in Holland. My family returned to the United States when I was in high school and we lived in Pennsylvania. I attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst for my undergraduate studies and majored in animal science/prevet. My first love has always been horses and I truly thought I would graduate and manage a horse farm somewhere. One of my old professors urged me my senior year to apply to vet school…with a vet degree you can do anything you want relating to animals (I can still hear him say). So I applied to several vet schools and was amazed I got in! The Florida weather was conducive to horseback riding year round (plus the tuition was affordable) so off to the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine I went.

Note: Dr. Christy Lund currently owns Lund Animal Hospital with her husband/partner, Dr. Scott O. Lund in Boca Raton, Florida.

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


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