THE MERCK VETERINARY MANUAL
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Management of Potbellied Pigs

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PBPs are sensitive to extremes of heat and cold and should be provided a clean, dry, draft-free environment. Adults are usually comfortable in a temperature range of 65–75°F (18.3–23.9°C). Because pigs do not sweat, temperatures ≥85°F (29.4°C) are stressful to adult swine. Extended exposure to high temperatures combined with high humidity may be fatal to PBPs not acclimated to such an environment. Cooling methods for adult PBPs include moving air across the body, wetting the skin for evaporative cooling (more efficient as humidity decreases), providing shade, and resting on cool surfaces.

Newborn pigs are very susceptible to drafts and chilling and require an environmental temperature of ~90°F (32°C). Chilled pigs will pile on each other and shiver, and their hair will stand on end. A poor environment may cause neonates to become moribund and hypoglycemic (see Immediate Postpartum Care) within 24–36 hr. Heat lamps or pads can be used to provide supplemental warmth, but their use should be monitored closely because of the electrocution risk from chewed cords; pigs that become too hot will spread out and pant.

PBPs may be housed outdoors or indoors (or both) but must be appropriately acclimated to the specific environmental situation.

PBPs housed outdoors should have a large pen (≥50 sq ft/pig) with a structure within to provide sleeping, feeding, and watering areas. Pigs will use dirt for elimination, and daily removal of feces and addition of fresh dirt to cover and absorb urine is required. Hay or straw may be added to partially satisfy the need to root. However, “rooted-up” pen ground should be filled in with fresh dirt from time to time. Fencing should be well secured in the ground to prevent it from being rooted up, but it should also be portable so that the entire pen can be moved periodically, giving access to fresh, clean dirt. The old pen dirt should then be smoothed out and left unused for several months before being used again. If pens are maintained on solid surfaces (eg, concrete pads), feces and urine should be removed daily, and fresh hay or straw provided as needed. Water dispensers must be secured to keep pigs from spilling the water by rooting or damaging the device by chewing.

PBPs housed indoors should have a particular area (eg, a laundry room), with an elimination area in one corner and a sleeping and eating area in another corner. A litter box with the side cut down to accommodate easy entry and exit may be used for elimination. Nontoxic material should be used for litter because pigs are curious and tend to chew on everything. A blanket may be provided to allow the pig to burrow under and partially satisfy the need to root while indoors; a box of dirt is another alternative.

PBPs should be exercised whether kept outside or indoors. They may be trained to walk on a leash or released into exercise areas. Daily exercise is important not only for physical health but also to relieve boredom that may otherwise manifest as destructive chewing or rooting or as aggression. Even if the PBP does not exercise much when given the opportunity, the various stimuli from an outside environment appear to be beneficial to overall temperament. Many household and garden plants are toxic to PBPs, which are adventurous eaters (see Plants Poisonous to Animals).

As healthy, neutered PBPs mature, they may become more aggressive and challenge other PBPs or people for status. Such challenges need to be addressed, or the pet may learn to use aggression to get what it wants. A combination of aversive techniques (eg, hand clapping, gruff vocalizations, stomping) and rewarding the PBP for positive behavior may help manage the problem. Failure to deter this unwanted behavior is a common reason why PBPs are placed in rescue operations or abandoned.

Neutered PBPs should be vaccinated against erysipelas and tetanus. Tetanus toxoid is especially important in PBPs housed outside in contact with other species (eg, petting zoos). Leptospirosis vaccine (6-way) may also be considered, but there is a substantial risk of high fever after use. Vaccines are not specifically approved for PBPs, so those commercially available for domestic swine are substituted. Two initial vaccinations 3–4 wk apart are followed by boosters every 6 mo for erysipelas and every year for tetanus, or both boostered yearly at the time of annual physical examination. Breeding PBPs should be minimally vaccinated against erysipelas, leptospirosis (6-way), and parvovirus; they should be vaccinated twice, 3–4 wk apart, before breeding and before rebreeding or every 6–12 mo. Other vaccines should be used as exposure risk indicates. Routine vaccination against various pathogens not only minimizes sickness but helps prevent zoonotic disease and may satisfy requirements for pet licensure. Safety and efficacy are concerns when using commercial domestic swine vaccines in PBPs. Consideration should always be given to the amount of antigen per body weight that is injected, especially in small pigs. Excessive antigen administration may cause adverse reactions. No rabies vaccine is approved for use in PBPs because of the extremely low incidence of swine rabies in the USA.

External and internal parasites are possible health problems in PBPs, and the zoonotic potential of sarcoptic mange and roundworms should be considered when counseling clients. Fecal samples via fecal flotation may be evaluated in PBPs as early as 6 and 10 wk old for whipworms and roundworms, respectively. Dewormers, such as oral fenbendazole at 3 mg/kg/day for 3 days; ivermectin at 300 mcg/kg, SC; or doramectin at 300 mcg/kg, IM, should be used as indicated. Injectable ivermectin and doramectin are highly effective against sarcoptic mange, the most common external parasite in PBPs.

The 8 needle teeth (4 deciduous lateral incisors and 4 deciduous canines) of newborn PBPs should be trimmed to prevent injury to littermates and laceration of the sow's underline. Four permanent canine teeth erupt at ~5–7 mo of age and are first trimmed at or after 1 yr of age. Elongated permanent canine teeth may cause discomfort, malocclusion, and persistent chewing motion and salivation. In PBPs, the canine teeth grow continually and should be cut about once a year using obstetrical wire, mechanical saws, or other instruments. Sedation or anesthesia is required. Teeth should be cut as close as possible to the gum line without cutting the oral mucosa or lips; there should be no exposed root canal after cutting the canine teeth of any type of swine. Tetanus antitoxin (500–1,500 U, depending on PBP size) and antibacterials are usually administered. In PBPs properly vaccinated with tetanus toxoid, a tetanus antitoxin injection is unnecessary. Tartar buildup can be removed manually by instrument scraping at the same time the canine teeth are cut. Dental cleaners for small animals may be used with care, positioning the head of the PBP downward during use to prevent water aspiration.

Geriatric PBPs may have abscessed and/or exposed tooth roots; sedation (tiletamine-zolazepam 2.2 mg/kg, IM, in ham) and examination of the oral cavity with or without endoscopy is indicated if anorexia and/or bruxism are reported. Radiographs may be necessary to diagnose tooth root abscessation. Swelling followed by a draining tract at the angle of the mandible, especially in geriatric PBPs, indicates canine tooth abscessation. Removal is challenging even for skilled surgeons and may result in mandibular fractures. However, PBPs seem to recover well after tooth extraction followed by antibiotics and tetanus prophylaxis.

Last full review/revision June 2013 by D. Bruce Lawhorn, DVM, MS

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