Furnishing adequate housing, a good diet, and routine preventive care will minimize disease in potbellied pigs, as with any other animal.
Digestive disorders in potbellied pigs may be caused by organisms such as bacteria, or they may be due to problems caused by swallowing foreign objects or eating toxic substances.
Gastritis and Foreign Objects in the Digestive System
Potbellied pigs are omnivorous and, like small children, prone to swallowing anything they can get in their mouths. Plastic milk containers, toys, and even socks may be swallowed. This may be related to normal curiosity, boredom, or a seemingly insatiable appetite. The chances of your pig being hurt by swallowing an inedible object will be reduced by providing 2 or more small meals a day, including low- or no-calorie foods (lettuce, cabbage, celery, carrots, or green grasses) in the diet, providing an outlet for innate rooting needs, and providing stimulating activities on a daily basis.
If the object swallowed is small enough and pliable enough, it may pass through the body without incident, cause only mild stomach inflammation, or require treatment with antibiotics. Larger or sharp objects may lodge in the throat, stomach, or intestines and cause vomiting, colic, or infection, which may be mild or serious. Your veterinarian will use x‑rays or other diagnostic tests to locate the foreign object and will check for infection and other signs of distress. Surgery is usually required to remove a large or sharp foreign object. In extreme cases, the damage to the body is so extensive that recovery is not possible. Following surgery, your potbellied pig will be given followup care, such as fluids, nutritional supplements, antibiotics, and a tetanus shot or booster, if needed.
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Depressed, inactive, high temperature initially, followed by low body temperature; in direct sun or warm to hot environment
Likely caused by overheating. Use a fan to move air across the body. If in direct sun, provide shade. Wet head first with cool water for 10 to 15 minutes before wetting entire body surface for evaporative cooling. Do NOT apply cold water or ice as this can induce additional temperature shock. If possible, rest your pig on a cool (65 to 75°F) surface. Monitor carefully and get veterinary help if recovery does not occur promptly with cooling. Overheating can be fatal.
Potbellied pigs are prone to weaknesses of the limbs and lower back and can easily break bones. Look for evidence of bites or other injuries. Minor scrapes or abrasions may be cleaned with soap and water, followed by the application of antiseptic or antibiotic cream. Check for evidence of more serious problems. If cracked hooves or evidence of animal bites are found, or if you do not find a minor problem, see your veterinarian for a prompt examination. Lameness accompanied by vocalization should be treated as a potential fracture and immediate veterinary care should be sought.
Extended straining to urinate or defecate
If your pig is having trouble urinating or defecating, this could be a sign of serious problems. Your pig may have swallowed a foreign object or have any of several serious medical problems. A prompt visit to the veterinarian is warranted. If a fresh fecal or urine sample is available, take that with you to the appointment.
Frequent urination, straining to urinate, and/or blood in the urine, especially with vocalization
A prompt veterinary examination can determine whether your pig has a serious urinary tract condition, such as a bladder inflammation (cystitis) or stones in the urinary tract (-urolithiasis). Bring a fresh urine sample with your pig for the examination.
Colibacillosis (Escherichia coli diarrhea) is common in young potbellied pigs. It is caused by E. coli bacteria, which are found in feces and wastewater contamination from humans, other animals, birds, and fish. Piglets who have not received colostrum by nursing from their mothers in the first hours of life are much more likely to die from this disease. Older pigs develop resistance to colibacillosis. The principal sign is diarrhea. The disease is diagnosed through a medical history and testing of a fecal sample. Good sanitation helps prevent the disease. Commercial swine vaccines to prevent colibacillosis are available, but they must be given to the female potbellied pig before she delivers. The vaccine stimulates immunity in the milk that bathes the gut of nursing piglets and prevents the attachment of the E. coli bacteria to the piglet's intestines. Colibacillosis can be effectively treated with appropriate antibiotics.
Enterocolitis is an infection often caused by Salmonella typhimurium bacteria. Pigs can be infected at any age, but after weaning is most common. Sources of infection include waste food from overturned garbage cans, exposure to other pigs with the infection, and wastes from other animals. The signs include mild to severe diarrhea with mucus and blood showing in the fecal matter. Fever, lethargy or weakness, and a bluish or purplish discoloration of the legs, ears, and jowls may also occur. Diagnosis is made by testing your pig's feces for the bacteria. At the same time, your veterinarian will test the bacteria to determine which medication can best treat your pet's infection. Untreated pigs may die from the infection, so prompt veterinary treatment is important.
Salmonella choleraesuis bacteria may also cause infection. The signs are similar to those of S. typhimurium infection, described above. Again, early veterinary intervention and treatment is important as this infection can cause death.
All Salmonella infections should be treated carefully because the bacteria can easily infect humans. Be sure to wash hands carefully and thoroughly with a strong soap, especially when disposing of waste materials. Children should not be exposed to pigs with any Salmonella infection as they can easily be infected.
Constipation can be a problem for potbellied pigs and may result from ingestion of foreign objects, low water intake, or any of several diseases. The normal bowel movement of a potbellied pig consists of one main cylindrical formation made up of smaller, multiple fecal balls. This fecal construction is often confused with constipation. If you suspect that your pig is constipated, consult your veterinarian, who can examine your pet and make an evaluation. Take a fresh sample of feces to the appointment to make diagnosis easier.
Treatment for constipation varies based on the cause. In simple cases, an increase in water intake may solve the problem. Encourage additional water consumption by flavoring the liquid with fruit juice or liquid gelatin. In other cases, mineral oil, a mild laxative, or other stool softener may be prescribed. However, you should never force mineral oil or other drugs down the throat of a struggling, restrained potbellied pig. If the pig inhales the substance into its lungs, pneumonia can develop and can lead to death. Enemas may be more effective for some pigs. If the cause is a foreign object lodged in the intestines, surgery may be required. Follow your veterinarian's instructions for treatment carefully. Regular exercise is often helpful in preventing or treating constipation.
This is a painful condition in which one or more layers of the rectum protrude through the anus. The prolapse may involve only one rectal membrane (incomplete) or all the layers of the rectum (complete). The condition is most frequently associated with a prolonged but ineffectual effort to empty the rectum. It is most common in young animals with severe diarrhea and some other lower intestinal tract conditions. Eating foreign objects may trigger this condition. Straining to urinate can also be accompanied by rectal prolapse, so obtaining a correct diagnosis is important. Your veterinarian can treat this condition surgically, and recovery is considered routine. Once your pig has had a rectal prolapse, the chances of it happening again are greater.
Bone and Muscle Disorders
It is common for potbellied pigs to have lower back, hind limb, or forelimb weakness. Due to normal conformation, potbellied pigs are susceptible to muscle pulls and ligament damage as well as breaks in the bones of the back and legs.
Lameness or favoring of a leg can be a sign that your pig has injured the affected leg or the back, especially if the lameness is accompanied by squealing or other vocalization. Pigs usually struggle against restraints and it is advised that these animals be sedated for extended exams, x‑rays, hoof trimming, dental work, and other procedures to avoid self-injury. Thus, it is likely that your veterinarian will sedate your pig while determining the cause of the lameness. Minor injuries, including muscle sprains and strained ligaments, are usually treated with anti-inflammatory drugs. Other medications may be necessary if anti-inflammatory drugs do not control the signs.
Breaks in leg bones and back bones are common in potbellied pigs and require surgery. Implanted pins, screws, plates, and other devices can help restore motion and strengthen the affected bone(s). Providing an environment that does not encourage your pig to jump on furniture or higher surfaces is the best way to reduce the chance of broken bones. Stairs are a challenge for pigs, and providing ramps between the levels in your home is a good way to solve this problem.
Arthritis can strike potbellied pigs at any age. Lameness is the most common sign. The affected joint(s) may or may not show swelling. Arthritis may be caused by several kinds of bacteria (infectious arthritis), or it may be caused by changes related to inflammation, joint stress, or aging (degenerative arthritis). Early treatment is needed to prevent distortion of the involved joints. Antibiotics may be effective if bacteria are the cause. In other cases, anti-inflammatory drugs can reduce the signs. Once the joints have been damaged, chronic lameness may occur, and pain management may be required. Arthritis in multiple joints may follow bacterial infection of the navel after birth. If degenerative arthritis and joint fusion from chronic inflammation are present, then euthanasia (putting the animal to sleep) may be advised.
Overgrown or Cracked Hooves
A potbellied pig's hooves continue to grow throughout its life. In the wild, hooves are worn down by exposure to rough surfaces. If your pig does not have access to rough surfaces such as concrete, then their hooves need routine annual trimming. Untrimmed hooves can cause damage to leg bones and encourage cracks. Cracks in hooves become infected easily and may require antiseptic cleaning and antibiotic medication to prevent more serious conditions.
Tetanus is an acute, often fatal, infectious disease caused by Clostridium tetani bacteria. Both humans and animals, including potbellied pigs, can be infected. The bacteria usually enter the body through a puncture wound, animal bite, open cut, or other injury. The first signs include muscle spasms, followed by uncontrollable, constant muscle contractions and inability to open the mouth (lockjaw). The best prevention is annual immunization; antitoxin and antibiotic medications following surgery or dental procedures may be used in unvaccinated animals.
Brain, Spinal Cord, and Nerve Disorders
Disorders of the nervous system in potbellied pigs may be caused by infection or by environmental problems such overheating or lack of water.
Infections of the nervous system may be caused by several types of bacteria, including Streptococcus suis type 2, other Streptococcus species, Salmonella choleraesuis, Haemophilus parasuis, and Escherichia coli. These infections are most common during the first 6 months of life. Antibiotic treatment may be effective if started early, but death may occur before there are any signs of infection. Because S. suis type 2 can also be passed to humans, care should be taken to avoid exposure when handling a potbellied pig with suspected nervous system disease. Wearing disposable gloves and avoiding accidental hand contact with eyes or mouth while handling pigs showing neurologic signs will help prevent human infection. Also, use standard hand washing procedures with antiseptic soap immediately after handling these sick pigs, whether or not gloves are worn.
Signs of nervous system disease may include one or more of the following: fever, depression, lack of coordination, staggering, postural abnormality (such as dog-sitting position or holding a leg up like a bird dog on point), head tilt, circling, involuntary eye movement (nystagmus), and seizures.
Because potbellied pigs do not sweat, they are easily overheated when exposed to temperatures above 85°F (29.5°C), especially if the humidity is also high. Overheated pigs may be depressed, inactive, and unresponsive. If an overheated pig has a subnormal rectal temperature (normal rectal temperature ranges from 99 to 102°F) before any attempt has been made to cool the animal, there is little chance for survival. Overheating is often fatal, although some pigs will respond to treatment for cooling.
Salt poisoning or toxicity occurs after an extended lack of water (36 hours or more), followed by sudden water consumption. Less commonly, it may be caused by eating large amounts of high-salt foods. It may be difficult to carefully monitor water consumption when water is provided in open bowls or other containers. As a result, inactive pigs may not consume enough water to control salt concentrations in their bodies. Cool weather may also contribute to this problem for pigs housed outdoors. The signs of salt toxicity include seizures, walking aimlessly, blindness, or abnormal sitting or walking positions. If you notice any of these signs, you should seek immediate veterinary assistance. Treatment for salt toxicity includes gradual rehydration and medications to reduce brain swelling. In severe cases, brain damage may result in permanent blindness and a vegetative state. In most such cases, euthanasia is recommended.
Some potbellied pigs develop seizures of unknown cause. Pigs less than 1 year old are most likely to have such seizures. The frequency of these seizures varies greatly. A pig may have only 1 or 2 a month or as many as several each day. Pigs with only a few seizures may require no special medication. Animals with frequent seizures may be placed on medication to control the episodes. Some affected pigs may stop having seizures as they get older.
Lung and Airway Disorders
Young potbellied pigs are particularly susceptible to an infection of the upper respiratory system, atrophic rhinitis, that causes inflammation and discharge from the nose. Pneumonia can occur in potbellied pigs and should be considered a serious condition due to the small lung capacity of these animals.
This infectious disease of younger pigs initially causes sneezing, a runny or bloody nose, tearing, and distortion of the nose or snout. It is most often caused by Bordetella bronchiseptica and/or Pasteurella multocida, and less commonly by cytomegalovirus. It is usually transmitted from the mother to the piglet before weaning but can be transmitted from pig to pig after weaning. The more severe the rhinitis, the more likely it is that the pig's nose or snout will be permanently distorted. This distortion may become more pronounced as the pig grows.
Bleeding from the nose, with or without a crooked snout, is a common sign of the disease. Early treatment with antibiotics is recommended for acute cases. For pigs with chronic nose bleeds, cooling the area with cold water and keeping the pig calm are helpful. For pigs in dry climates, increasing the humidity of the air can offer some relief. Vaccines are available for atrophic rhinitis, but they must be used in pregnant mothers and unweaned pigs to be most effective. Watch newborn piglets for sneezing, nasal discharge, and tears. If these signs appear, your veterinarian should be consulted for prompt treatment.
Like humans, potbellied pigs can develop pneumonia, an infection of the lungs with signs that include coughing, fever, lethargy, and difficulty breathing. Young pigs are exposed to pneumonia-causing microorganisms from their mothers or littermates or from contact with other infected pigs. Pneumonia is a serious disease for potbellied pigs because they have a relatively small lung capacity. The disease is often caused by Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae, which damages the immune capacity of the lungs. This is frequently followed by a more serious infection with the bacteria Pasteurella multocida. Antibiotic treatment can control the infection and is especially important when a litter of young pigs is involved. Vaccines are available for some types of pneumonia, but their use is probably not required unless your pet is routinely exposed to other pigs.
Pneumonia caused by Actinobacillus pleuropneumoniae is very dangerous for potbellied pigs. It is transmitted by mothers to their piglets or by exposure to other swine that have the disease. Pigs that are infected with the disease become carriers, and they can pass the infection to other pigs even though they might not have any signs. Common signs of infection include coughing, fever, and lethargy. Sudden death is possible. Prompt treatment with appropriate antibiotics is required. Even with prompt treatment, recovered pigs usually have permanent tissue loss in the lungs and may have recurring respiratory problems. The best preventive step for this disease is vaccination. Commercial vaccines are readily available and should be included in your pig's vaccination schedule.
Skin disorders commonly seen in potbellied pigs can range from infectious diseases caused by bacteria or other organisms to skin tumors, dry skin, and sunburn.
Dry, Flaky Skin
Dry skin with itching that varies from mild to severe is seen in virtually all potbellied pigs. Bathing may worsen dry skin and can actually cause flaking if done too often. Instead, wipe the pig's skin with a wet towel each week to remove the flakes. Moisturizing lotions (such as those containing aloe vera) may be used as you might use a dry skin lotion. For some cases of dry, flaky skin, your veterinarian may recommend supplementing the diet with fatty acids, but these need to be used sparingly because the extra calories may lead to obesity.
This skin disease is caused by mites, which are small parasites that live in the skin. The signs include intense itching, scratching, and skin sores. Affected pigs may attempt to lick the sores or rub them against a sharp or rough surface. Your veterinarian can test for the presence of mites and provide an injection of medication (usually an endectocide) to kill the mites. An additional injection is often required to completely rid your pig of mites. Because potbellied pigs can carry a small colony of mites without any signs, newly acquired pigs may be given a routine preventive injection of the medication during their first examination.
Skin tumors such as melanomas are commonly found in potbellied pigs and other swine. These tumors may be malignant and spread to other parts of the body. Your veterinarian should remove any suspected tumor and have it evaluated by a pathologist. Occasionally, melanomas may regress on their own, resulting in a loss of hair and skin color of the entire body. In these cases, normal pigmentation usually returns, and affected pigs usually live normal life spans.
Sunburn can develop in potbellied pigs exposed to sudden high-intensity sunlight. The sunburn may or may not be obvious. Sunburned pigs may be “down in the back legs” and can show weakness or minor paralysis in the hind limbs accompanied by squeals or other vocalizations. Pigs will recover from sunburn; however, you may want to have your veterinarian suggest an appropriate skin lotion to provide pain relief for your pet. If the pig is kept in an outside pen, it is important to ensure that the animal always has some shade available to reduce the chance of sunburn or heat stress.
This disease is a bacterial infection caused by Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae. Infection can cause red spots on the skin and the death of skin cells. More serious complications are arthritis, heart problems, and even death. Routine monitoring of your pig's overall condition and alertness to changes in skin color and the presence of sores is recommended to catch this disease early. If you notice skin color changes or the presence of sores, you should have your veterinarian check your pig for erysipelas. Treatment with antibiotics such as penicillin is usually effective. Vaccination and annual booster shots are recommended to prevent this potentially fatal disease. People can be infected with this bacteria and care should be taken to isolate your pig to prevent spread of the disease to members of the family.
Kidney and Urinary Tract Disorders
Cystitis is inflammation of the bladder. Urolithiasis is the formation of stones, called calculi, in any portion of the urinary tract. Calculi are found in the bladder and urethra of potbellied pigs. In contrast, kidney stones that stay in the kidney area or pass painfully down the ureter to the bladder are the usual type in people. Stones or calculi can be painful, cause problems with urination, and cause blood in the urine. Both cystitis and urolithiasis are common in male and female potbellied pigs.
Signs of both conditions include frequent urination or straining to urinate, especially with vocalization. A prompt veterinary examination can determine if your pig has either condition. It speeds diagnosis if you can bring a fresh urine sample with your pig for the examination.
Antibiotics are the usual treatment for cystitis. Vaccination may help prevent possible kidney infection caused by Leptospira bacteria. Leptospira can be transmitted to humans, so care should taken when handling the litter box or cleaning the area used by your pig for elimination (such as wearing disposable gloves), and thorough hand washing should follow any contact with your pig or its toys or food.
Treatment for urolithiasis can be an emergency situation if calculi are preventing urination. Immediate treatment usually involves sedating the pig and using x‑rays or ultrasonography to determine whether the bladder is full; immediate relief of bladder pressure (if appropriate); then removing the calculi.
Routine urinalysis should be included in your pig's annual checkup. This can allow your veterinarian to catch these diseases early and prevent serious urinary tract disease.
Psychogenic Water Consumption
Pigs with this condition consume far more water than is required for normal body maintenance. Boredom may lead to psychogenic water consumption. Other causes of increased water consumption, such as cystitis or other urinary tract diseases should also be checked. To do this, your veterinarian can test your pig's urine both before and after a 12-hour water fast. Young pigs usually outgrow this condition. In some cases, water is restricted and offered only with meals. If this treatment is used, care must be taken to prevent salt poisoning (see Potbellied Pigs: Salt Poisoning).
Last full review/revision July 2011 by D. Bruce Lawhorn, DVM, MS