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Feeding and Nutrition of Potbellied Pigs

By D. Bruce Lawhorn, DVM, MS

Fresh water should be available at all times to prevent dehydration and salt toxicity (water deprivation). Balanced diets are essential to provide proper daily nutrients and prevent obesity. Starter, grower, and maintenance rations for PBPs are commercially available as crumbles or pellets. The recommended amount per body weight should be fed divided into at least two meals/day. Rations for commercial domestic swine, available in meal, crumble, or pellets, may also be used with professional veterinary guidance. Green leafy vegetables, alfalfa, and green grasses (but not weeds, because some are toxic) can be added to the ration to satisfy appetite. Fruits such as apples and grapes may be given in limited amounts. High-energy treats should be avoided because PBPs tend to become overweight.

Even when calorie intake is restricted, weight loss is difficult because the minimal amount of exercise possible in obese PBPs burns few calories. Lameness is another common factor limiting exercise capacity. Maintaining normal hoof length via trimming is important for mobility. Swimming is an alternative form of exercise for obese, lame PBPs, but acclimation and supervision is necessary.

Young weaned PBPs thrive best if adequate colostrum was consumed within the first 24 hr of life. PBPs deprived of colostrum easily succumb to diarrheal and septicemic disease. For early nutrition, commercial milk replacers are available, but 2%–3% pasteurized milk or powdered milk also can be used successfully. Approximately 1 oz every 4–6 hr should be fed from a bottle with a nipple until the pig is trained to drink the milk from a shallow bowl or pan; usually, this can be done in <24 hr. The volume fed should be increased as the pig grows but decreased if diarrhea occurs. Overeating diarrhea may be controlled with kaolin/pectin preparations given every 4 hr. Infectious diarrhea that may be from gram-negative bacteria (eg, Escherichia coli) should respond to parenteral or oral gentamicin or oral spectinomycin. The diet can be converted to solid feed by mixing a small amount with milk to make a gruel and gradually increasing the ratio of feed to milk (conversion to all feed in ~14 days). Increasing amounts of fresh water should be provided as the diet is converted.

Urolithiasis from triple phosphate crystalluria may occur in PBPs but can be prevented through addition of urinary acidifiers to the ration. At least one commercial PBP feed contains ammonium chloride, and feed additives containing ammonium chloride or citric acid are available. Owners may feed fruits or vitamin C in an attempt to acidify the urine. A constant source of clean, fresh water is also important to prevent the accumulation of triple phosphate crystals. Adding fruit juice to water may increase water consumption and help acidify the urine. Inadequate water consumption by sedentary PBPs in cool weather has been associated with urolithiasis.