Routine Health Care of Potbellied Pigs
Locating a veterinarian with experience in caring for potbellied pigs may be difficult. Few small animal veterinarians have thorough training in this area. Similarly, livestock veterinarians may not be trained in potbellied pigs and may not be conveniently located. However, it is important to find professional medical care for your pig before an emergency occurs. Research the veterinarians listed in your phone directory or on the internet. A good source of information is the website of your state veterinary medical association. Most state associations have an online referral service and information about specialized veterinary services.
Once you have compiled a list of possible veterinarians, call each one and ask if they have experience and training in the care of potbellied pigs. If a veterinarian does not feel comfortable caring for your pet, ask for a referral to another veterinarian who has the needed training and experience.
Ideally, a veterinary examination should be done before the potbellied pig is purchased to ensure that it is healthy. If this is not possible, be sure that you can return the animal to its previous owner if an initial medical examination shows that the animal has medical problems. Obtaining any medical records—such as records of any treatments or vaccinations—from the previous owner is very helpful. Bring these records to the first veterinary visit.
The first veterinary visit establishes a record of the animal in healthy condition. This information will be highly valuable should medical problems develop later. The veterinarian should provide any needed vaccinations, a fecal check for worms, deworming (if needed), skin scraping and treatment (or preventive treatment) for mange, and other common services.
During your first veterinary appointment with your potbellied pig, you can set up a vaccination schedule and a program for hoof maintenance, parasite control, and dental care. These steps, in addition to preventing common injuries, will help your potbellied pig live a long, healthy life.
The hooves of potbellied pigs may become cracked or overgrown and cause lameness, discomfort, and, in extreme cases, infections and abscesses. Exercise on abrasive surfaces such as concrete helps wear down hoof ends and keep them at an appropriate length. For pigs living indoors or without access to exercise on abrasive surfaces, hoof trimming should be provided on an annual basis or more frequently if required. Your pig will likely be sedated or anesthetized for this procedure. The veterinarian may choose to combine hoof trimming with tooth trimming and routine dental care.
Vaccination is important to protect against disease and also may be necessary for pet licensure in some areas. Follow the vaccination schedule recommended by your veterinarian (see Potbellied Pig Vaccinations).
Many worms and other parasites can cause health problems for potbellied pigs. Some of these parasites can also pose health risks for pig owners. Your pig’s veterinarian should check routinely for the presence of worms (bring a fresh sample of your pig’s droppings when you visit the veterinarian). If worms are found, a dewormer will be prescribed and should be used as directed.
Parasites, such as mange mites, can also live on the potbellied pig’s skin. The most common disease caused by this type of parasite is sarcoptic mange. Humans can easily develop this disease, so care should be taken to prevent mite infestations and to control mites as soon as they are found. Every young or newly acquired potbellied pig—particularly those obtained from sources such as a flea market or shelter—may harbor a few mange mites that are not yet causing itching, rubbing, or skin lesions. These pigs should receive routine preventive therapy to stop the development of mange and to prevent transmission to its owners. Your veterinarian can prescribe treatment for mites and other parasites as required.
Dental care is extremely important for potbellied pigs. Newborn pigs should have their 8 needle teeth trimmed to prevent injury to littermates and cuts on their mother’s breasts and belly. At about 5 to 7 months of age, the permanent canine teeth will erupt. These canine teeth grow continuously throughout the pig’s life. They should be first trimmed at about 1 year of age and then trimmed on an annual basis. Without trimming, the canine teeth will become elongated and cause discomfort and a misaligned bite. Pigs with elongated canine teeth may show persistent chewing motions and heavy salivation. Tooth trimming requires sedation or anesthesia and is often accompanied by a tetanus vaccination and removal of accumulated tartar and other debris from around other teeth to maintain good dental hygiene.
Elderly potbellied pigs may have abscessed and/or exposed tooth roots. An x‑ray image may be required to diagnose tooth root problems. Extraction of abscessed teeth may be necessary. Most potbellied pigs respond well to extractions and recover rapidly with antibiotic treatment and tetanus vaccination.
As with all pets, care should be exercised to protect potbellied pigs from injury. The most common injuries are intestinal problems caused by swallowing foreign objects and bone fractures caused by jumping on or off furniture and other raised surfaces. Keeping the area where your pig lives and plays free of easily swallowed objects can save your pig’s life. Small toys and other foreign objects can easily block your pig’s throat, stomach, or intestines and cause serious injury or death.
To reduce the risk of broken bones and related injuries, gently but firmly discourage pigs from jumping on and off furniture and other above-ground surfaces. Arrange play areas to keep your pig on the floor or ground. Provide ramps rather than steps between levels because steps are often difficult for pigs.